House of Lords
Monday 7 December 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber while others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. I ask those asking supplementaries to keep them to no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points, and I ask for Ministers’ answers to be brief.
Trident Nuclear Programme
My Lords, in order to ensure that the Government maintain an effective deterrent throughout the commission of the Dreadnought class submarines and into the future, the Secretary of State for Defence formally announced to Parliament on 25 February 2020 that the UK will replace its nuclear warhead. The replacement warhead programme will be delivered to a schedule that ensures that our deterrence posture under Operation Relentless endures uninterrupted. I am withholding specific information about the in-service date to safeguard national security.
I thank the Minister for her Answer. I am delighted that we are pressing ahead with this. It is a part of our armoury that is used every single day in deterring, so I am pleased about it. However, I have great concerns about AWE. Repeated ministerial deferrals post 2010 have resulted in decay of nuclear expertise and cost escalation within AWE, as has been noted by the NAO. Could the Minister confirm, after the failures of the MENSA, Hydrus and Pegasus projects to deliver on time and within budget, and the scathing assessment by the NAO earlier this year, that AWE as currently structured is able to deliver such a complex programme on time and at cost?
The MoD routinely evaluates and reviews all major contracts as they near their end dates. It conducted a review of the governance model in place for the management of AWE plc, and it was following that review that the MoD decided that AWE should revert to a direct government-ownership model. We believe that will simplify and further strengthen the relationship between the MoD and AWE.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Government’s defence priorities include cyber and space projects, and that they continue to recognise, as they said in the 2018 defence review, that security challenges involve non-state actors, migration, pandemics and environmental pressures? How will the Trident programme fit their own priorities or help to tackle any of those threats?
I agree with the noble Baroness’s assessment of the threats of cyber. That is why the recent defence financial settlement reflects the importance that the Government attach to both cyber and space activity. The nuclear deterrent, which was overwhelmingly mandated by Parliament in 2016, is a very important but separate part of our capability. It is there to deter, and it has proved to be an effective deterrent.
The UK Trident nuclear programme is at the heart of our enduring and lasting relationship with the United States of America. Can the Minister undertake that any discussions on the future of that programme will articulate and take into account the enduring importance of Scotland’s contribution to the United Kingdom union, the union’s defence and the NATO alliance’s defence?
I thank the noble Baroness for making a very important point. She is correct that the Trident missile system is essential to our deterrent. That is why we work closely with the United States in that respect. She is also correct to point out the significance of defence to the United Kingdom. Faslane, where the deterrent is located, is now the UK’s submarine headquarters. That is part of a general pattern of vital defence activity which is spread throughout the United Kingdom and which Scotland benefits from significantly.
My Lords, as a timely reminder, the House of Commons voted relatively recently by a majority of 355 to effectively renew Parliament’s commitment to the nuclear deterrent by authorising the Dreadnought programme. With that in mind, the announcement of some £24.1 billion of extra funding for the MoD is most welcome, but can my noble friend confirm that there has been no Treasury sleight of hand and a corresponding—or even any—reduction in the Dreadnought contingency fund?
I reassure my noble friend that the Dreadnought programme continues to run to schedule. As he will be aware, an overall budget of £31 billion, with the £10 billion contingency fund, has been allocated to it. The remaining allocation of funding is still to be determined within the MoD following the recent settlement.
My Lords, the extension of the Trident programme is clear and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, pointed out, it has recently been reaffirmed by the other place. Could the noble Baroness tell us how Her Majesty’s Government view the extension of Trident in terms of their priorities for the RevCon of the NPT?
I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the question. The Government take the view that, under the non-proliferation treaty, we remain compliant with international law and in compliance with Article VI of that treaty. We have a very good record of contributing to nuclear disarmament; we have managed to reduce stocks by about 50% from their Cold War peak and we are the only recognised nuclear weapons state to have reduced our deterrent capability to a single nuclear weapons system.
My Lords, the Minister confirmed to me only the other day that we have a policy of continuous at-sea deterrence, which we all very much welcome. Can she confirm that we now have sufficient submarines for that purpose and, no less importantly, sufficient crews to keep them at sea?
My Lords, I have mentioned several times in this House, in connection with Trident, the two definitions of affordable: first, can you afford it, and, secondly, can you afford to give up what you have to give up to be able to afford it? Can the Minister assure the House that the Government considered this second definition when assessing the recently announced increased resources for defence?
I confirm that the Government reviewed all relevant issues in determining that settlement. Of primary and perhaps principal importance is the defence of the country and the safety of its citizens. That is why the defence settlement reflects these priorities.
My Lords, the recent announcement of an extra £16.5 billion for defence is welcome, but the £13 billion black hole in the defence budget is still there. In terms of the funding for the Trident replacement programme, for more than a decade the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury have disagreed about funding Trident, the former arguing it should be the Treasury’s responsibility as it was in the past. Will the forthcoming integrated review address this matter once and for all?
As I have previously indicated to the noble Lord, I cannot pre-empt what the integrated review will say. However, a practice has clearly arisen whereby the MoD is considered responsible for the provision and management of the nuclear deterrent and the Treasury reflects that with funding. That is why the financial package for Dreadnought comprises an identified budget of £31 billion and a contingency fund of £10 billion. The other elements of the deterrent will be determined in due course by the MoD in the allocation of the budget settlement.
My Lords, nuclear deterrence may have made some sense during the Cold War of the 1950s. Today, there is no direct threat of invasion to our shores. In an inverted meaning of “defence”, we already have a military presence at 145 sites in 42 countries, a number second only to the United States. Does the Minister agree that this strutting of military might across the globe has nothing to do with defence?
With respect to the noble Lord, I completely disagree. I feel that the measure and calibre of the effectiveness of a deterrent has been reflected over the years. I said once before that the perhaps paradoxical character of a deterrent is that its lack of use confirms its efficacy of purpose. The threats we face are becoming ever more complex and diverse and are increasing in scale. We have the deterrent to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life which cannot be deterred by other means. That is why the Government are absolutely clear that we need the nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future.
Convention on Biological Diversity
My Lords, the UK has clear ambitions for the global biodiversity targets to be agreed at CBD COP 15. Despite delays to the international timetable due to Covid, we are engaging fully in the negotiation process. We are working internationally—including through the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature and the UK-led Global Ocean Alliance, and in our role as ocean co-chair of the High Ambition Coalition—to secure support for our objectives, and will continue to leverage opportunities at all levels as we approach COP 15.
I thank my noble friend for his answer and draw attention to my environmental interest as in the register. Next year’s CBD will be a crucial opportunity for the nations of the world to address the worsening biodiversity crisis. Can my noble friend assure me that Her Majesty’s Government will be as ambitious on this as they have been on climate measures, not least by setting robust targets to halt and reverse the decline in species and habitats by 2030, committing to protect what we already have and creating not just new woodlands but also wetlands and grasslands?
The UK is absolutely committed to playing a leading role in developing the highest possible ambition in relation to the post-2020 global framework for biodiversity at the CBD. Our overarching ambition is targets that, as my noble friend says, will halt and reverse global biodiversity loss and, crucially, that will be underpinned by clear accountability and implementation mechanisms. Because we see no real distinction between climate change and our environmental obligations, we are committed to ensuring as clear a link as possible between those two conventions. Climate change represents perhaps the greatest threat that we face, and global biodiversity is being lost at an appalling and unprecedented rate. We cannot tackle one without a major focus on the other, and that is reflected in all our ambitions.
My Lords, the delay that my noble friend has just mentioned has improved the chances of COP being a great success next year, added to by the result of the American election and the reshuffle of people in No. 10 Downing Street. What plans does he have to meet the American team, and can he update us on the discussions with India to get it to play a positive role?
I am afraid I am not in a position to provide details about exchanges that have been happening between the UK and the incoming presidential team. However, I can say that the incoming President has made it very clear that climate change will be a priority issue. We have also heard that there will be an increased focus by the United States on nature, which we think is crucial. We in the UK have signed up to, and indeed are running, the campaign to protect 30% of the world’s oceans and land by 2030, and we have high hopes that the US will join us in that. Another core plank of our campaign is to ensure sufficient finance for nature recovery; again, we hope to be able to work very closely with the incoming Administration in that regard.
My Lords, at the COP meeting next year UK representatives will be signing pledges and agreements on behalf of all the four nations, yet at the moment there are still problems with peat and various biodiversity issues in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. What progress has been made on reaching an accord among our four nations, which can be taken to the meeting?
We work very closely with the devolved Administrations on all biodiversity issues. It is a devolved area but there is very little to distinguish the positions held among the four nations on international policies. I therefore have absolute belief that we can speak very much as one in wanting to raise the ambition as high as we can at both conventions next year.
My Lords, while I accept that modest progress has been made in some areas, will the Minister accept that the UK’s overall performance on biodiversity has been relatively poor? Public funding for conservation projects has fallen sharply in real terms over recent years, and the Government’s October 2020 publication of biodiversity indicators shows that the situation regarding a large proportion of the targets that the Minister mentioned remains the same or is deteriorating. How do the Government intend to address that apparent static position?
First, I am happy—well, not happy, but willing—as a government Minister to acknowledge that in many areas there are ongoing declines in biodiversity. The numbers here in the UK are no better than those elsewhere around the world. We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis. However, we are putting in place the mechanisms and resources needed to buck that trend, and we are absolutely committed to doing so: the first Environment Bill in 20 years; ambitious measures, including restoring and enhancing nature; a new £640 million Nature for Climate Fund to deliver woodland expansion and peatland restoration; most importantly of all, replacing the old common agricultural policy with a new system whereby payments are conditional on good environmental outcomes; and 25% of our waters being in marine protected areas. We have also announced the tripling of Darwin Plus to £10 million a year for our overseas territories.
I am very confident in saying that UK leadership on biodiversity internationally exceeds that of any other country that I am aware of. We are generally recognised to be world leaders in raising ambitions and taking meaningful action internationally to buck the biodiversity trends.
My Lords, would it not be easier for the Government to show leadership abroad if we were demonstrating it at home? How does the Minister square the statement he made just a moment ago—that we are putting the necessary resources in—with the fact that government spending on biodiversity has declined by well over a quarter since it reached its peak under the coalition Government? Can he tell us when it is going to get back to the funding levels required to effectively protect biodiversity?
The key principle of the convention on biological diversity is that biodiversity should be mainstreamed. That means that every decision of every Government should be made on the basis of whether or not it contributes to bucking the trends or takes us in the wrong direction. That is essential. On that basis, the UK Government are organising in such a way that our decisions on a wide variety of issues are increasingly reconciled with nature. The new Nature for Climate Fund will help us buck those trends and turn the tide. As I said earlier, the single biggest financial mechanism—the one that will deliver the biggest change we have seen in my lifetime—is the shift from destructive land-use subsidies to subsidies that are conditional on good environmental outcomes. No other country in the world is doing this. If we persuaded other countries to do so, I believe the world would be set on a path towards restoration and recovery of the natural world. It is really big news.
My Lords, the Ice Ages have left us with only 30-odd native trees of limited genetic variety, whereas a healthy temperate forest would have some 1,000 species. Does my noble friend agree that that is a fundamentally precarious position, as we have seen with recent tree diseases? Does he therefore support the Forestry Commission in its determination to increase biodiversity, in both species and provenance?
I agree with my noble friend. We will be spending a lot of public money on meeting our ambitions and targets for planting or restoring 30,000 hectares a year by 2025. It is essential that we use public money in a way that delivers the maximum possible solution. We do not want to see trees as just carbon-absorbing sticks; they have a crucial role to play in biodiversity, public enjoyment, flood prevention and enabling land to hold water better throughout the year. So yes, we want to deliver the greatest possible biodiversity and the best possible solution.
My Lords, given that the UK leadership team for COP 26 is an all-male affair, can the Minister assure us that the UK leadership team—not just the support staff—at the conference of biodiversity will properly represent the people of this country and will be gender balanced?
I do not have the figures in front of me, but I would be willing to bet that the answer to the noble Baroness’s question is that simply on the basis of choosing the right people for the job, the gender balance as we prepare for CBD is as it should be and is balanced. I also take issue with her comments about COP 26. I cannot tell her that the team is entirely selected on the basis of the 50-50 gender balance that we aspire to, but the balance is a great deal more impressive than she may have read in the newspapers. I would be happy to provide those figures in writing in due course.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness and look to working with her on this important agenda. Colombia is an FCDO human rights priority country and we raise human rights with the Colombian Government’s representatives whenever possible. Indeed, I discussed the issue at length with Ministers, relevant institutions and civil society during my virtual visit to Colombia on 13 October. We are also proud to lead on Colombia’s peace process at the UN Security Council and have contributed £60 million in support of peace, stability and security since 2015.
I thank the Minister very much for his Answer, and refer to my interest as recorded in the register. The peace process is clearly vital. A recent newspaper report in Colombia, revealing details of an undercover operation by the Colombian Attorney-General’s office, apparently designed to entrap FARC peace negotiators and undermine the peace process, is alarming. The Attorney-General’s office, led by Néstor Humberto Martinez, reportedly provided five kilos of cocaine for the operation, but this and other relevant information was withheld from the courts. Was the British Ambassador—or other British authorities—made aware of those details at the time of the arrest of the FARC peace negotiator in 2018? What is the Government’s assessment of these revelations?
As the noble Baroness will appreciate, I am not going to comment specifically on press reports. In terms of the specifics of the case, she raises important challenges that Colombia continues to face. The issue of narcotics and drugs is a major one. Colombia remains one of the largest producers of cocaine in the world—among others. The violence that we currently see affects local communities and former FARC combatants, led by the issues we have seen around drugs. We remain committed to peace accords, which the current President and his team have assured us of. On the specific matter of the case the noble Baroness raises, if there is more information to share, I will write to her.
My Lords, I was privileged to meet brave journalists when I visited Colombia—people such as Jineth Bedoya. Can my noble friend say what support the Government now give to the Colombian Foundation for Press Freedom and how effective they assess that to be in the face of the continuous threats of rape, kidnap and death that journalists face?
My Lords, I first pay tribute to my noble friend for her leadership, during her tenure as Minister of State at what was the FCO, on a broad range of human rights and for standing up for human rights defenders. Indeed, in my virtual visit, my first meeting was with journalists, to ascertain and understand more effectively the challenges they have. We are aware of allegations that members of the Colombian military have been illegally gathering surveillance on activists, including journalists and opposition politicians. We have raised this directly with the Colombian authorities. We are lending technical support and will be raising the issue of journalist freedom and press freedom across the piece in our leadership role on the coalition for media freedom.
My Lords, the UK has spoken up in the Security Council about the special jurisdiction for peace, but can the Minister say what public support has been given by the UK embassy in Bogotá to this war crimes tribunal, in light of attempts by President Duque to undermine its work?
I pay tribute to the noble Baroness’s work in this area. The United Kingdom has provided, and continues to provide, support to help Colombia tackle, in particular, the legacy of sexual violence from its long conflict. The UK continues to support survivors and has now helped document 1,200 new cases that are now before the transitional justice system. Let me assure the noble Baroness, that in my visit to Colombia I made it absolutely clear that, while this is an independent judicial body, it should not be interfered with. We continue to stand up for the rights of all survivors of sexual violence during the period of conflict.
My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-president of Justice for Colombia. The transitional justice court, which was created in Colombia by the peace agreement, has been hailed by the International Criminal Court as a benchmark for the world. Is our Government aware that the Colombian Government are undermining the court’s mandate? Of course, this is in a country where there is still widespread violence. Does the Minister agree that ending the court’s ability to function fairly rather contradicts HMG’s funding to support the peace process? What steps can the UK take to protect the court’s autonomy?
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that during my visit, and indeed in all engagements through our ambassador, we raise the importance of the very matters that he refers to. In terms of our commitment to the peace process, I think the UK can be proud of the fact that it has contributed to the importance of an inclusive peace process, and we will continue to do so.
Global Witness has found that Colombia is the world’s most dangerous country for environmental activists, with more 60 murders in 2019. How are we engaging to help protect these activists, and combating climate change in Colombia generally?
My Lords, as I said in my opening Answer, Colombia remains a human rights priority country. I agree with the noble Baroness that the statistics are quite shocking. In the latest figures the UN has released, at least 45 human rights defenders have been killed this year alone. That said, we are working very closely with Colombia on the importance of protecting the environment and tackling climate change. Our climate programme in Colombia is designed with a conflict-sensitive approach. Much of its aims are to protect Colombia’s biodiversity, but also to protect those who are leading important roles within country.
My Lords, Colombia’s supreme court has declared that state security forces systematically violate citizens’ democratic right to peaceful protest, and the Colombian army has this year been implicated in killings in rural areas. Given that the UK is providing funding to train Colombian police, are steps being taken to ensure that human rights concerns about the Colombian security forces are properly addressed?
My short answer to the noble Lord is that yes, they are, but the concerns he has raised are real and he is quite right to bring them to the Floor of the House. I can assure him that in all the exchanges we have, including our support, be that financial or technical, the issue of human rights obligations among those who are trained and are there to protect people is very much at the forefront of our discussions.
My Lords, in aiming to help to strengthen and reinforce democratic principles and the rule of law in Colombia, can my noble friend say whether the British Council is playing a significant role? Is that part of the Government’s assessment process which he has already outlined?
My Lords, keeping Colombia at centre stage and supported is much needed after long agony. The Minister has referred to the question of drugs. Could the Government assist by helping to provide essential access to markets for Colombian farmers as a substitution for the growing of coca and, if so, how might this be achieved? This would be in addition to encouraging that all FARC combatants stay engaged with the peace process and that the ELN comes to the table, along with supporting measures to ensure that human rights are respected, with the possible deployment of UK police, with their professionalism, to offer training and support to the Colombian authorities.
My Lords, the noble Viscount has made some very practical suggestions that I will certainly take forward. On the general point of how we can shift those who are reliant on the drugs trade within Colombia to alternative means, that is again a very practical suggestion and I can assure him that through our work on the ground, in particular through the embassy, we are working on identifying appropriate measures that can be taken to ensure that we can act responsibly and move people away from narcotics and other drugs.
My Lords, as the Minister said earlier, we have an important role as a member of the UN Security Council. Will he go back to the council and ask for a new initiative via the United Nations to approach President Duque Márquez to persuade him to get the peace process moving again? If we could do that, as a result of this important Question, the United Kingdom would be making a very significant move in the right direction.
My Lords, do Her Majesty’s Government accept the description of the head of the UN Mission in Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, of an
“epidemic of violence against social leaders, human rights defenders and former combatants”?
If so, what are they doing to address the situation, especially as regards the Colombian security forces?
My Lords, I have already spoken to this issue and I agree with the noble Lord that the situation for human rights defenders is dire. We remain deeply concerned about the continuing presence of illegal armed groups in Colombia and their violence and intimidation, particularly towards local people, let alone human rights defenders. However, as I have already said, I can assure the noble Lord that all our support is inclusive, particularly as we continue to press the existing Government and the president for a renewal and real vigour behind the peace talks. In all their actions, the important work of human rights groups and human rights defenders, and more generally the citizens of Colombia, should be totally and fully protected.
Covid-19: Social Mobility
My Lords, social mobility is at the core of the department’s policies. The Government remain dedicated to ensuring that every child and young person will gain the opportunity to succeed and we are committed to providing them with the necessary skills and knowledge. That is why the Government have given unprecedented support, including the £1 billion catch-up fund, to help to tackle the attainment gap, along with an investment of over £195 million on technology to support remote education and access to online social care.
My Lords, I am glad to hear that we are trying to address the question of what is being called the potential lost generation, who may not get the chance of social mobility through education and work that others have had. But there is another lost generation and I would like the department to look at the possibility of addressing the 35% of children who we are already fail at school. Those are not my figures but those of the noble Baroness’s department. We fail those who leave school having had nothing that you could call an education. They fill our prisons and our A&E departments and join our long-term unemployed and working poor, and they die younger because they do not have any social mobility. May I suggest that this is the time for building back better so that we can address this lost generation that is already with us?
My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that we want to make sure to avoid this potential loss for young people, and education is of course a major protective factor in their lives. However, more disadvantaged students are in better schools than they were in 2010, with 86% of our schools being “good” or “outstanding”. During the pandemic, many school leaders have gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that disadvantaged students can catch up. Just one of the initiatives is that as of April, any adult who does not have a level 3 qualification can go to an FE college or other college or institution and get their first qualification at that level.
My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will have seen today the IPPR report on the state of the north, which again shows shocking levels of child poverty. It is obvious that Covid has pushed these children even further down the ladder. Levelling up will work only if the toxic link between child poverty and school failure is broken. Why is that long-term strategy not being prioritised in the spending review? When can we expect a long-term plan for children’s learning and welfare which is equal to the urgency and gravity of the situation?
My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that specific emergency help has been provided to ensure that children who needed a meal when their schools were closed were given support and that the early years sector in particular was given funding, as were schools, irrespective of the young people who were attending them. Vulnerable children with an EHC plan or those who were in need were offered a school place even during the lockdown. Enabling more disadvantaged students to do well is core to the Government’s strategy.
My Lords, the pandemic has exacerbated the lack of opportunities and inequalities for so many. We continue to witness the return on capital exceeding economic growth. Are the Government seriously considering implementing higher taxation on wealth and inheritance to help improve opportunities for those who are limited in them?
My Lords, social mobility, as the noble Lord has rightly outlined, is more than just for the Department for Education. It also impacts on the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Unfortunately, I am not able to answer the noble Lord’s specific question, but I will write to him once I have a response from Her Majesty’s Treasury.
My Lords, as highlighted in a recent report by the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre of NESTA, only 16% of people who work in the creative industries are from working-class social origins. Covid has had a devastating impact on the opportunities of people from that background and from black and minority-ethnic backgrounds. Will my noble friend look at the recommendations of the policy and evidence centre—including, for example, reforming the Kickstart programme—and work with it, as we come out of the pandemic, to increase life chances?
I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am sure he is aware that, through the Culture Recovery Fund, we have given £1.57 billion to support that sector. I hope he is aware of the educational aspects of cultural diversity that sit within the Department for Education, such as the music and dance scheme. I have yet to read of a scheme like that that is not pivoted towards disadvantaged children and children who have free school meals, or towards improving the diversity of those who access culture.
My Lords, we all know that social mobility relies not just on education but on work opportunities beyond education. What work will the Government undertake to bring together companies that have profited substantially during the pandemic—those that distribute to households, supermarkets, and pharmaceutical and alcohol companies—to make up the deficit of hundreds of thousands of internships and apprenticeships that have been cancelled by companies that have lost profit and business during the pandemic? Will the Government commit to the #10000BlackInterns programme launched by two City businessmen, three weeks ago?
My Lords, it is encouraging to see, even without being asked by the Government, the flurry of businesses returning their business rates relief. We all have to tackle this pandemic together and the effect on different employers has been disparate. I can assure the noble Lord that, on apprenticeships, we have offered employers £2,000 for anybody under the age of 25 they take on, and £1,500 for anybody over the age of 25. We are doing what we can to support them, as well as the £2 billion Kickstart scheme, which offers six-month jobs for those between 16 and 24 on universal credit to give them an entry into the workplace.
My Lords, women in low-paid insecure work have borne the triple threat of job losses, falling income and the explosion of unpaid care needs during the Covid pandemic. What work is being done by the Government now to address the structural barriers that women—working-class women in particular—face, including to combat low pay and secure further gains on shared childcare and caring responsibilities more generally?
My Lords, I also have the privilege of being the Minister for Women, and we are looking at the entitlement to flexible working. I am also pleased that we are focused on ensuring that the economic recovery is for women as well. We have been encouraged by how the digital skills boot camps have not only met targets for women’s participation but exceeded them. I am pleased to say that, in April 2021, the national living wage will be going up 2.2% to £8.91, so we are looking to help women in particular gain the advantages of the economy recovering.
Would the Minister give a thought to people who have failed in the examinations system, who will increasingly become unemployed and present themselves for benefits? Could some assessment be made of whether they have commonly occurring educational problems such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, so that they can have a form of assessment and thus start to implement at least basic coping strategies, if not educational programmes?
My Lords, as part of our response to the pandemic, the Government are investing £900 million in additional work coaches. We have also made £100 million available for high-value courses for 18 and 19 year-olds who might leave college when there are no employment opportunities. That is in addition to the digital skills boot camps and the online skills portal that we have set up, so we are providing opportunities and supporting more work coaches. We have invested more in the careers service, as well, to help with the issue that the noble Lord outlines.
My Lords, I speak today on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, who has been delayed travelling to London. Like her, I am very aware of the relationship between child poverty and a lack of social mobility, but she has a special interest as independent chair of the North of Tyne Inclusive Economy Board. Child poverty is central to the Government’s levelling-up agenda. Since 35% of children in the north-east of England live in relative poverty, would the Minister tell us if Her Majesty’s Government will work with the Social Mobility Commission to develop a national child poverty strategy in response to the Covid-19 pandemic?
My Lords, as far as social mobility policies are concerned, how much of the splendid proposed “biggest funding boost” for schools will be spent on teaching children how to buy and cook the right food, economically, to reduce the obesity epidemic and narrow the gap between rich and poor?
As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, we have a childhood obesity strategy. Part of the national curriculum is also about food and nutrition. That is compulsory in maintained schools, but can form part of education in academies. There is also now a food and nutrition GCSE, so this is provided for within the school system.
Arrangement of Business
Conduct Committee Report
Motion to Agree
I draw the House’s attention to Standing Order 68A, which states that Motions on the report resulting from an investigation under the Code of Conduct must be decided without debate because reports are highly sensitive and often involve vulnerable people. The House has established a system of decision-making and appeals on which, I hope noble Lords agree, it can rely. Therefore, the House’s procedures do not permit me to take questions today. However, a Member has given notice of his intention to divide the House on this report. I have received an email from that Member suggesting that, notwithstanding Standing Order 68A, Members should have a chance between publication and decision by the House to make representations to the committee, which would then meet and decide whether to confirm its initial report. However, that would represent a procedure quite different from what the House has instituted. The House has entrusted disciplinary matters in the first instance to the independent Commissioner for Standards and, on an appeal from her or in a case such as this, where she feels a sanction that is outside her powers is required, to the Conduct Committee.
I remind your Lordships that the Conduct Committee now consists of five Peers and four independent lay members. The latter bring to the committee a valuable range of experience, including in standards and disciplinary fields such as victim support, justice, professional legal and police discipline. All nine members of the committee sat on the present matter and I assure the House that it received very anxious and careful consideration. The upshot is that the present report upholds the Commissioner’s findings that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, breached the Code of Conduct by bullying a parliamentary security officer and harassing three Members of Parliament on the basis of sexual orientation, with homophobic comments on a number of different occasions spread over some two months. The first, in early January this year, involved offensive and bullying behaviour toward the security guard and then toward a Member of Parliament who happened to by passing by and intervened. This was compounded by further insults toward the security guard and homophobic comments, which were made later to the Huffington Post.
The other two incidents took place a month apart, in early February and early March. The first consisted of further homophobic comments about the chair of an APPG in an email sent by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, after a dinner at which the noble Lord had evidently wanted to ask a question but was not called. These remarks were joined gratuitously with further comments of a homophobic nature about the MP involved in the first instance. The incident in March involved further homophobic comments made at the same APPG—this time, at a breakfast event and to a previously uninvolved MP—regarding the chair of the APPG and the MP involved in the earlier instance. The entire tone of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, was described as
“unapologetically homophobic, aggressive and disrespectful”—
a description that he said sounded fairly accurate when asked about it by the Commissioner.
The Conduct Committee underlines in its report that
“the issue of concern was not his beliefs but his behaviour. Lord Maginnis is entitled to hold the beliefs he does and to express them freely in Parliament”—
or outside it—
“but in doing so he must treat others with courtesy and respect”
and must not engage in what, here, were repeated incidents of bullying and/or harassing misconduct.
The report recommends
“that Lord Maginnis of Drumglass be suspended from the service of the House for a period of at least 18 months and until he has successfully completed a designated course of bespoke behaviour change training and coaching. At the end of this period the Conduct Committee will consider whether it is appropriate to end the suspension”
and will take into account whether he shows that he has engaged with the training and has gained insight into why his behaviour was inappropriate.
The House may ask why the Conduct Committee increased the minimum recommended period of suspension from the nine months recommended by the commissioner to 18 months. As I said, we gave very careful consideration to the sanction. As we explained in our report at paragraph 21(a), we identified on the part of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, both an absence of any remorse and a complete lack of insight into the impact of his behaviour on, in particular, the victims of such behaviour. As the report states, he
“portrayed himself as a victim of a conspiracy by people who disapproved of his views, and insisted that all his conduct had been provoked. He also continued to refer to the complainants in a disobliging and sometimes offensive manner”
and said that he was not in fact minded to accept either any training course or suspension.
As I hope your Lordships will all agree, it is of paramount importance that all members of the parliamentary community—of all backgrounds, sexual orientation and beliefs, and of any status—should feel safe and respected when they come here to work. Bullying and harassment such as that demonstrated by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, must be subject to significant sanction to safeguard all members of the parliamentary community. Evidence is then required that the perpetrator understands why their behaviour was wrong and how it must change before they can be allowed back into Parliament. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, said, under Standing Order 68A, agreed earlier this year, no debate is permitted on this Motion. I must therefore now put the Question that this Motion be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say “Content”; to the contrary, “Not-Content”. Members have also given notice by email that they wish to see a Division on this Motion. I will therefore instruct the clerk to start a remote Division.
That, in accordance with Standing Order 12, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass be suspended from the service of the House for a period of at least 18 months and until the Conduct Committee confirms that he has satisfactorily completed the other requirements of the sanction; and that, in accordance with section 1 of the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act 2015, in the opinion of this House, the conduct giving rise to this resolution occurred after the coming into force of that Act.
Import of, and Trade in, Animals and Animal Products (Miscellaneous Amendments) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Aquatic Animal Health and Alien Species in Aquaculture, Animals, and Marketing of Seed, Plant and Propagating Material (Legislative Functions and Miscellaneous Provisions) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Veterinary Medicines and Residues (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Official Controls (Animals, Feed and Food, Plant Health etc.) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Common Fisheries Policy (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Common Fisheries Policy (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2020
Motions to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 14, 20, 22 October and 2 November be approved.
Relevant documents: 32nd, 33rd and 34th Reports from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 2 December.
Conflict Minerals (Compliance) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 15 October be approved.
Relevant document: 31st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (special attention drawn to the instrument). Considered in Grand Committee on 2 December.
Export Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 15 October be approved.
Relevant document: 32nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (special attention drawn to the instrument). Considered in Grand Committee on 2 December.
Report (1st Day)
Relevant document: 15th Report from the Constitution Committee
My Lords, I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. Interventions during speeches, or “before the noble Lord sits down”, are not permitted and uncalled speakers will not be heard. Other than the mover of an amendment or the Minister, Members may speak only once in each group. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are permitted but discouraged. A Member wishing to ask such a question, including Members in the Chamber, must email the clerk. The groupings are binding and it will not be possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A Member intending to press an amendment already debated to a Division should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect the voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely intends to trigger a Division, they should make this clear when speaking on the group.
Clause 2: Implementation of international trade agreements
1: Clause 2, page 2, line 14, at end insert—
“(c) an international treaty or private law convention (including any amendment or protocol thereto) that facilitates trade or the financing thereof.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and the amendments in the name of Lord Berkeley to page 2, line 23 and page 2, line 33, will enable the ratification of international treaties which have the UK as a signatory and enable trade or the financing thereof.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 1 I shall also speak to Amendments 4 and 5. The purpose of these amendments is to provide a legal basis for the Government to bring forward a statutory instrument to ratify the Luxembourg Rail Protocol. Noble Lords will probably remember that I spoke about and explained the purpose of this protocol in Committee. Very briefly, I remind the House that the Luxembourg Rail Protocol is a protocol to the Cape Town convention to reduce the risk for creditors, which in turn will reduce the cost of financing for new and current rolling stock.
An Oxera study published this week showed, I think, a saving to the rail sector of about £130 million per year. However, it is particularly important for the British rolling stock manufacturing community looking to develop new markets outside the UK, which I believe is one of the purposes of the Trade Bill. This rail protocol follows an older protocol on aircraft leasing and financing, which I think most people believe has been very successful in financing aircraft.
In Committee, the Minister replied that the Government support the ratification of the protocol. I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, and the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, on this. Since they felt it was more appropriate to get the necessary legal basis through the private international law Bill, I agreed that I would not move my amendment. We had discussions with Ministers on the private international law Bill. I am once again grateful to Alex Chalk MP, the Justice Minister, and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, for their help in drafting the new amendment to the PIL Bill when it came back to your Lordships’ House for ping-pong. I am grateful to the Ministers for their discussion.
During the debate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, agreed how important the rail protocol is to the industry but suggested that the application of the protocol was narrower than I might have thought, saying:
“The Government consider this to be an important issue and are thinking about how best to implement the protocol in the United Kingdom. As we discussed last week, we consider that the power in this Bill”—
that is, the PIL Bill—
“is too narrow to fully implement the protocol, although the provisions in applicable law would be within its scope.”—[Official Report, 19/11/20; col. 1574.]
That is very good but all it did was allow half the protocol to be implemented, which noble Lords will probably agree is not a good situation.
The Government appear to support the ratification of this protocol and to consider it important for the rail industry. However, I feel that I have been sent round the houses, from the Trade Bill to the PIL Bill, and now the Ministers have discovered that it will allow only half the protocol to be ratified. I was grateful for further discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, by email recently, in which he suggested that
“the Trade Bill should not be expanded beyond essential readiness for trading as an independent country outside the EU.”
I would argue that this protocol would allow the rail sector to do just that. I think it would be very useful if it could be included.
The Minister again suggests that the Trade Bill is not an appropriate vehicle for matters relating to finance and transport, which should be considered elsewhere. If it were a matter of motor manufacture or printing-press manufacture, surely those would be trade issues as well. For motor manufacture, is the Department of Transport involved or is it a trade matter? That question must be resolved. Government lawyers from probably three different departments are dancing around a pinhead. This merry-go-round must stop because it is wasting a lot of government time, as well as Parliament’s.
I have been sent around the houses: transport, trade and justice, and now we are back in trade. I am very pleased to be back in trade this afternoon. Ministers say that they support the protocol to help achieve better trade in railway equipment, so in order to stop this merry-go-round, will the Minister urgently arrange a meeting with myself, the Department of Transport, the Department for International Trade and the Ministry of Justice if necessary? Will he then bring forward an amendment at Third Reading, which I assume and hope would be agreed across government, to enable the Luxembourg Rail Protocol to be ratified? Surely the Government can get their lawyers to agree.
If the Minister could commit to arranging such a meeting with me to resolve these issues and bringing forward an amendment at Third Reading, I would be very content. If not—and I hope it does not go that way—I am minded to seek the opinion of the House, if only to demonstrate the strength of internecine warfare in this Government on an issue that they all support but cannot work out how to deal with. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise primarily to support the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, as I did in Committee, in his efforts to get the Luxembourg Rail Protocol to the Cape Town Convention implemented in the UK. As we have heard, some steps have been taken, thanks to the good offices of the Minister and of Alex Chalk in the other place, but sadly they have not quite done the trick. I refer to my business interests in the register, including the UK-ASEAN Business Council, and a new role as chair of Crown Agents, which curiously, I find, did a great deal of work on rail and rolling stock during its long history.
I see two advantages to the protocol that was signed by the UK as long ago as 26 February 2016—obviously a very different world then. First, it will reduce the risk to creditors, which in turn will reduce the cost of financing new and current rolling stock—everything from engines to equipment and parts, data and manuals. Whether these are for a new line that is being built or for existing lines, by lowering creditor risk the protocol will assist in lowering the cost of new, more efficient, locomotives and wagons for freight and passenger transport. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has just said, an Oxera study to be published this week suggests a saving to the rail sector of about £130 million a year. This is quite significant when rail funding is under pressure, and particularly desirable as part of a move to net zero as we seek to combat climate change.
Secondly, it would help British rolling stock manufacturers seeking to develop new markets outside of the UK. There is an urgent need, for example in Africa, for more railway equipment both for urban transport—light rail, metro and trams—and for intercity rolling stock. The markets are there for British exporters, but the Governments and their operating agencies do not have the resources. I am talking about countries such as Namibia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and South Africa. The lack of resources has been a major constraint, and in a number of cases, operators have bought Chinese rolling stock instead, even when it is less suitable, because it comes with Chinese state-backed financing.
The answer is to bring in private capital through leasing or secured financing structures where UK-based manufacturers will draw on the considerable expertise of the UK financial services community to finance their sales of railway rolling stock and equipment around the world. Without this protocol, many of these sales will not happen or financing will be so expensive because of the risk involved as to make such projects uneconomic. With the protocol, operating both in the UK and in the export states, I understand that the export credit agencies will be able to offer better financial terms for exporters. Under an agreement at the OECD, export credit agencies reduce their risk premiums by 10% when the Aircraft Protocol to the Cape Town Convention applies, so British adoption of the Luxembourg Rail Protocol should cost the taxpayer nothing.
I am supporting this measure because it could make a real practical difference to skilled UK businesses and financiers and improve the lives of many people on new or improved railways and trains as we leave the EU. A way must be found, one way or another, to ensure that the protocol is not further delayed, and that the merry-go-round the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to stops, so I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
Finally, many of the proposed amendments do not offer a practical advantage for discernible UK interests, like the railway interests to which I refer, and I wonder whether this Bill is the place to include them all. This is a continuity Bill first introduced in 2017, and we need to get it on to the statute book.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, in utter frustration. The Luxembourg Rail Protocol was adopted at a diplomatic conference in 2007 and is due to come into force in 2021 because enough countries will have ratified it by then to create that effect. It creates a worldwide legal framework to support private-sector investment in railways and rolling stock, as the noble Baroness said, by establishing a new international registry for security interests, making it far more difficult for valuable rail equipment to be lost or stolen. These concerns have limited private investment in railway schemes across the globe, especially in the developing world.
Of course investment in rail matters, because it supports economic development and the battle against climate change. As others have suggested, the UK is a beneficiary both as a buyer of rolling stock—bringing down the price is therefore an advantage—and as a manufacturer, which will be able to market itself more effectively across the globe.
The UK is a signatory to the protocol, but it just cannot seem to get around to ratifying it. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has introduced these amendments to try to achieve that ratification. I am very keen that ratification should happen, but I am concerned that the noble Lord is being forced by the Government to choose a route that adds even more unaccountable powers to the Government’s rapidly increasing range of widening and unchecked powers in this Bill and in others. I will be interested to hear the Minister address this issue because I hope that he will explain that I am wrong, that this could be construed as a narrow power simply to allow us to get the Luxembourg Rail Protocol done. I would like to be wrong, but I fear that I am not. We have already been through one shambles—the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, did not use this phrase, but I will—with the Private International Law Bill, which was supposed to enable ratification of this protocol but turned out to be inadequate.
Let me address the narrow purpose of the Trade Bill. The Long Title of the Bill makes it perfectly legitimate to include language that would enable the Luxembourg Rail Protocol to be ratified. Everyone who has spoken on this subject so far has been a Minister at some point or other. Many of us have seen Bills with a slightly broader purpose dealing with an urgent gap in legislation, so it is not unusual and it does not undermine the character of the Trade Bill at large.
So I really would urge the Government to come back at Third Reading with a clause that allows them to ratify a protocol that they, the Opposition, the industry and those who seek to buy rolling stock across the world want to see ratified. This is an outstanding opportunity; I very much hope that the Government seize it.
My Lords, on the substance of this amendment, I have very little to add to the excellent speeches that we have already heard from my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, with additional support from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. As my noble friend Lord Berkeley said, we have watched his progress from Bill to Bill, from department to department and from Minister to Minister almost with affection as he wends his way around, receiving much the same answer from everybody: they all agree that this is a terrifically important thing to do, but, of course, supporting it is not their job or that of their Bill or department. I do not think that he should divide the House on this issue because it is not something that we can progress by amendment or Division but, at the very least, when the Minister comes to respond, he should commit to come back to my noble friend with a clear plan of what he needs do to get this protocol agreed. Clearly there is willingness and there are lawyers and opportunities; we just need a plan.
My Lords, I turn to Amendments 1, 4 and 5, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I acknowledge without reservation how much this topic means to him; no one could have worked more assiduously than he has on it.
The amendments before us would expand the scope of the Clause 2 power, creating a power to make regulations implementing private international law conventions as well as agreements that facilitate trade or trade financing. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his engagement on this matter with DIT, the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Justice in relation to the private international law Bill.
In Committee, the noble Lord outlined that this amendment would allow the UK to implement the provisions of the Luxembourg Rail Protocol; for those who were not present, this protocol relates to the financing of railway rolling stock. Noble Lords will be pleased to know that the Government recognise the competitive advantages of ratifying the Luxembourg Rail Protocol. We have identified the benefits that this could bring to both the UK rail sector and UK financial services. Thus the Government support the ratification of this protocol; the challenge has always been finding an appropriate parliamentary time and a suitable vehicle to implement it, given the very significant pressures on parliamentary time—as your Lordships will be all too aware.
Turning to the appropriateness of this amendment, as we argued in Committee, we believe that the scope of the Trade Bill
“should not expand beyond essential readiness”—[Official Report, 29/9/20; col. GC 40.]
for trading as an independent country outside the European Union. I am afraid that the Trade Bill is not a suitable vehicle to provide powers for the implementation of this agreement. As previously explained, the powers granted by this Bill are limited but vital for the delivery of the UK’s independent trade policy.
In Committee, we argued that technical matters relating to finance and transport should be considered outside the Trade Bill in a way that is suitable to matters related explicitly to finance and transport. I was pleased to see Peers support amendments to the private international law Bill that will help to support the implementation of the Luxembourg Rail Protocol, but it is obviously disappointing that this is not a final solution. I assure your Lordships that the Department for Transport will continue to explore all available options and vehicles to implement the protocol fully.
As I have made clear, the Government fully support the implementation of the Luxembourg Rail Protocol. However, I repeat: we do not believe that this Bill is the appropriate place to achieve this. We will therefore oppose this amendment on this occasion, but I would be happy to work with colleagues across government and facilitate further conversations between the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and the Department for Transport to discuss our policy in this sector at greater length and see whether a plan can be put together.
Again, to be clear, we do not believe that this is the appropriate legislation for this amendment and we will not bring forward an amendment to the Trade Bill on this topic at Third Reading. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who spoke and to the noble Baronesses, Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lady Kramer, and my noble friend Lord Stevenson for their support. I am grateful to the Minister for his response, courtesy and offer of further support.
We have not moved very far from where we were in Committee and the Minister did not really answer the question about why it is inappropriate for a Trade Bill that is designed to encourage trading when we become a completely independent country at the end of the year to include a text that allows a trade in railway equipment to be ratified. As I said in my earlier remarks, if this had been the motor or printing trades, I am sure that the Department for International Trade would have been only too keen to do it.
The Minister is pushing me in the direction of the Department for Transport. The most useful way of achieving this would be to have an early meeting with Ministers there and the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone—I hope that he would be happy to join us—to see what we can do. It would be good, and it is important, to have this done before the end of the year for the same reason that so much other legislation is needed. I am doubtful about whether the Department for Transport will have a slot in its parliamentary programme, but we will have to see.
As my noble friend Lord Stevenson said, there is no point in dividing the House on this because it will not help to achieve the objective that I think we all want; on that basis, I look forward to further meetings but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
2: Clause 2, page 2, line 18, at end insert “and where the new agreement is in wholly or substantially similar terms to that between the partner country and the EU.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would limit the application of delegated powers to the “roll-over” of existing agreements.
My Lords, I am delighted to speak on Report and, in particular, to speak to and move Amendment 2 and speak to Amendment 3. I would like to think that the amendments are fairly self-explanatory but, effectively, they both seek to
“limit the application of delegated powers to the ‘roll-over’ of existing agreements”—
exactly as is set out in and is the intention of the Explanatory Notes. The reason for this is that the clause, as currently drafted, grants powers to implement agreements between the UK and our EU partner countries.
The Law Society of Scotland—to which I am grateful for briefing me and helping me to draft this amendment—has brought to my attention and alerted me about its concerns about the delegation of powers to implement a free trade or international agreement that relates mainly to trade. It believes, in relation to reassurances that have been given that these powers could be used only for continuity measures, that the Bill itself does not limit the use of these regulation-making powers to implementing continuity Bills.
Paragraph 5 of the Explanatory Notes states:
“The Government seeks continuity in the effects of these existing trade and investment relationships as far as possible. The Government has been discussing with the UK’s existing partner countries how best to achieve that aim and has been working to transition these agreements to make them apply to the UK after the end of the transition period. This is the Government’s continuity negotiations program, which is distinct from its future trade agreements program.”
The definition of a free trade agreement, or an international agreement that relates mainly to trade, could mean entirely new agreements. The limitations in Clause 2(3) and (4) should be clarified to ensure that they apply to the continuity negotiations programme and not future trade agreements.
If the Government’s intention is that the agreement should be restricted to continuity agreements, using regulations to implement them has more justification. If it were possible that future trade agreements could be negotiated with countries which are existing signatories under current arrangements, it should be clear that those agreements are not covered by the Bill and would be implemented by primary legislation which, of course, provides Parliament with more scrutiny.
I hope that Amendments 2 and 3 clearly limit the scope of the Bill to cover the intended circumstances. This is not entirely new. It was put to the House in the 15th report from the Constitution Committee on the Bill in September 2020 and I do not think that the position has changed since then. The Government’s response to an earlier report, quoted in paragraph 5 of the September report, was that,
“‘the delegated power within clause 2 of the Trade Bill is drafted in a way so that the presumption is that the power cannot be used to do certain things—such as impose taxes, create new criminal offences or establish new public bodies—unless there is an express provision allowing it to do so.’”
In the Committee’s view,
“The present version of the Bill and explanatory notes are unchanged in respect of the clause 2 power.”
I have not seen a change. The Committee concluded, in paragraph 7, that:
“We are not persuaded by the Government’s position that it is sufficient for the power in clause 2 to be constrained presumptively rather than explicitly. We recommend that the restrictions on the power be included in the text of the Bill.”
I entirely agree with the conclusions of the Constitution Committee. The purpose of these two amendments is to ask the Minister to explain, in his summing up, what the Government’s thinking is about why this is purely presumptive and what prevents them from putting this clearly on the face of the Bill. It may be appropriate to press this to a vote today. I would prefer that the Government agree with me, and the Constitution Committee of the House, and bring forward their own amendment at Third Reading. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure, as always, to follow the noble Baroness. I have a great deal of sympathy with the intention behind these amendments, which also relate to the fact that, from January onwards, the Bill will have to operate for agreements it was never intended to implement. The House does not need reminding that it was the Government’s categorical position in the past that there was no doubt that all continuity agreements would be signed by March 2019, then summer 2019, then the end of 2019—it goes on. The reality is that there are currently 13 countries outside the EU with which we will be trading on terms less favourable than we did before, because those agreements have not been rolled over. The status of those agreements, with regard to this Bill, is now in a degree of limbo. For example, we know that our agreement with Canada is a temporary continuity agreement because we expect the negotiations to roll on regarding an almost immediate successor agreement. It is justifiable for the Government to clarify what status that has with regard to these powers.
Some of the agreements that we did reach have run out of time for full ratification, so they will have to be provisionally applied. That means that the Bill will be used for implementing agreements as well as adjusting ones that are made and ratified, ones that have been made but not yet ratified, and ones to be made and to be ratified. This is a very broad scope for these delegated regulatory powers. In Committee, the Government said that these delegated powers had a purpose. The Minister was quite clear that they are simply for technical adjustments to things, such as the names of quangos or certain terminology, that you would not wish to reopen a treaty for. That has a degree of sense; they should be limited. However, we are in a different position now, even from where we were at the beginning of Committee, with the full knowledge that there will be very many agreements that have not been successfully rolled over and will have to be implemented, some of which will be initiating new agreements at the same time.
I am, therefore, glad that the noble Baroness has again asked the Government to be clear what the intended purpose of these powers is. We want to avoid them being used to implement agreements. We also want to completely avoid them being used for implementing part of a border operating model that we know the Government are not ready for. We want the reassurance that any implementation of a response to questions for our export procedures which are still outstanding will not be used under the Bill. It would reassure the House if the Minister gave the assurance that the intended purpose of these delegated powers remains technical and limited.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for raising this issue and, through her, to the Law Society of Scotland for reminding noble Lords of some of the detailed points which we often ignore when we put down amendments, particularly at this stage of a Bill’s progress. As the noble Baroness said, and as was picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, some rather unforeseen issues are now arising, particularly in relation to the rollover agreements which were originally intended to be done and completed by 31 December but which, for a variety of reasons, are not going to be. Some of them are being done under emergency power provisions; some will not be done at all. We need to have on the record from the Minister where exactly these will fit in the structure of this Bill. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I turn to Amendments 2 and 3, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, which seek to restrict the Clause 2 power so that it can only be used to implement agreements which are “wholly or substantially similar” to previous EU agreements. I can assure noble Lords that all the continuity agreements that we have signed to date have stayed true to our mandate of replicating the predecessor EU agreements, and that will not change for those that we are yet to conclude.
As noble Lords know, we have voluntarily published parliamentary reports for your Lordships’ reference alongside every continuity agreement, which outline any differences required to make the agreements operable in a UK context. As those reports show, none of our continuity agreements have diverged significantly from previous EU agreements. None of the debates in which these agreements have been discussed has resulted in a negative resolution. During the passage of this Bill, we have heard suggestions that the Government are delivering agreements which go above and beyond continuity, and that a more extensive scrutiny process is therefore required for them. The evidence is clear that this is not the case. We are seeking only technical changes to make agreements function in a UK-specific context, meaning that the current scrutiny measures are fit for purpose. I know that noble Lords will point to the recent UK-Japan CEPA. It is correct that that agreement goes further than the EU-Japan EPA in areas including digital trade. However, as your Lordships are aware, as the Government knew that this agreement would go beyond continuity, we provided enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of it.
Setting the UK-Japan CEPA to one side, your Lordships will appreciate that technical changes are required in some areas to allow agreements to work in a UK bilateral context. In these circumstances, the Clause 2 power could be used to make technical changes to UK domestic law to ensure the obligations under the agreement are met. The power in Clause 2 is therefore essential to allow us to implement in domestic law the obligations that arise from continuity agreements. The substantially similar wording is unfortunately ambiguous and could lead to uncertainty as to whether a trade agreement could be implemented via the Clause 2 power. The effect of this could be a possible disruption to concluding and implementing continuity trade agreements, potentially resulting in a gap in preferential trading relationships after the end of the transition period.
To paraphrase what the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh, said, they asked: “Why not put this on the face of the Bill, and if the power is not needed to transition trade continuity agreements, why do we need it at all?” As stated in the impact assessment and Explanatory Notes, the Trade Bill is not needed to transition trade continuity agreements themselves. However, the power will provide the implementing powers necessary to fully implement trade continuity agreements over time and in all circumstances. The Clause 2 power is intended to be used only to ensure that a limited number of obligations in these trade continuity agreements, particularly in relation to procurement and mutual recognition, are fully implemented in domestic law via secondary legislation.
I hope that with those explanations, my noble friend Lady McIntosh is reassured that our use of this power will be limited to continuity agreements that faithfully replicate predecessor EU agreements. As a result, I ask my noble friend to withdraw her amendment.
I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie. With the reassurance he has given me that any agreement will be a continuity agreement and will “faithfully replicate” its predecessor, and with the further reassurance—which I would like to write into the record if I have understood it correctly—that if any future continuity agreement, such as the Japan CEPA agreement, will go further, there will be “enhanced parliamentary scrutiny”, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 3 not moved.
Amendments 4 and 5 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 6. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may only speak once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this amendment or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
6: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Parliamentary approval of trade agreements
(1) Nothing in this section restricts the power conferred by Her Majesty’s prerogative to commence, conduct negotiations towards and then conclude a trade agreement.(2) If a decision has been made by the Secretary of State to commence negotiations towards a free trade agreement, a statement must be made to both Houses of Parliament.(3) Negotiations for that trade agreement may not proceed until the Secretary of State has laid draft negotiating objectives in respect of that agreement before Parliament, and a motion endorsing draft negotiating objectives has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.(4) Prior to the draft negotiating objectives being laid, the Secretary of State must—(a) consult each devolved authority on the content of the draft negotiating objectives, and(b) produce a sustainability impact assessment including, but not limited to, an assessment of the impact of the proposed negotiating objectives on human, animal or plant life or health, animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and equalities, and employment and labour.(5) A sustainability impact assessment under subsection (4)(b) must include—(a) a statement on how the proposed trade agreement will advance the meeting of the Sustainable Development Goals; and(b) a plan to maintain UK levels of statutory protection on the protection of human, animal or plant life or health, animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and equalities, and employment and labour.(6) The Secretary of State must inform both Houses of Parliament, and any Select Committee charged by the relevant House with scrutinising trade negotiations in a manner and to an extent agreed with the Committee, of developments in the negotiations, but this does not affect the power of the Secretary of State to conduct negotiations as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(7) For the purposes of subsection (6), “developments” means—(a) a pause in negotiations;(b) an ending of negotiations;(c) the conclusion of a negotiated round of discussions;(d) the decision to agree in principle an agreement; or(e) other necessary aspects of the negotiations of which the Secretary of State considers it necessary to inform Parliament.(8) The United Kingdom may not become a signatory to a free trade agreement to which this section applies unless a draft of the agreement in the terms in which it is to be presented for signature by parties to the agreement has been laid before, and approved by, a resolution of each House of Parliament.(9) Before a Minister of the Crown moves a resolution to approve the text of a proposed free trade agreement in either House of Parliament, the Secretary of State must— (a) consult each devolved authority on the text of the proposed agreement, and(b) lay before Parliament an independent impact assessment of the agreement including, but not limited to, the requirements in subsection (4).(10) In this section—“devolved authority” has the meaning given in section 4(1) of this Act;“free trade agreement” means any agreement which is—(a) within the definition given in section 4(1) of this Act, and(b) an agreement between the United Kingdom and one or more partners that includes components that facilitate the trade of goods, services or intellectual property;“UK levels of statutory protection” means levels of protection provided for by or under any—(a) primary legislation,(b) subordinate legislation, or(c) retained direct EU legislation,which has effect in the United Kingdom, or the relevant part of the United Kingdom, on the date on which the sustainability impact assessment is produced.”
I rise to move Amendment 6, and I look forward to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on Amendment 12, because these amendments concern an issue that has been a focus of Committee and a major part of today’s debate on Report. I listened carefully to the Minister’s response to the debates we had in Committee on scrutiny of agreements. There seemed to be some areas of agreement across the House, and I hope I am accurate in outlining what I consider them to be: it is the Government’s prerogative to make a decision to open, conduct and conclude negotiations; the Government believe the scrutiny powers of the European Parliament and the role of British MPs in agreements made by the European Union were effective; Parliament needed a greater role here at home; the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act process is insufficient in itself to allow for proper scrutiny and accountability. This last point has been agreed by everybody, including the Government, who have been at pains to say that they acted “above and beyond” the requirements of CRaG on the Japan EPA—in fact, the noble Viscount referred to that in an earlier group. It is fair to suggest that any Government who go above and beyond the legislative requirements they have to have regard to might point to those requirements being insufficient.
Outside groups as varied as the National Farmers’ Union and the BMA have been in touch with noble Lords asking them to support Amendment 6, and I am grateful for their support. It shows the breadth of interest in updating and improving parliamentary accountability for agreements that go far beyond tariffs and quotas, as we have stated repeatedly during the passage of the Bill.
My amendment—I am grateful for the support of the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who all take a close interest in these issues—has been adjusted since Committee to take into consideration the remarks of the Minister and colleagues from across the House. The amendment does not restrict the Government’s use of the royal prerogative to commence, conduct and conclude trade agreements. The Government have indicated that this is a red line for them, and that would be fully acknowledged, in statute, in this amendment.
In proposed new subsection (2), a statutory underpinning would be created to the commitment the Government have themselves said they will carry out for future trade agreements, which is that they will inform both Houses of Parliament that they are commencing negotiations. That would now be a requirement.
Proposed new subsection (3) would put the United Kingdom on a par with the US and the EU, which provide for the endorsement of negotiating objectives. There is little doubt now that the European negotiations and the Office of the US Trade Representative believe this mechanism strengthens their hands in conducting negotiations rather than weakens them. I referred to the US legislation from Congress that provides, in statute, a framework for how the US TRO conducts negotiations.
Proposed new subsections (4) and (5) outline in simple terms that the Government must consult devolved authorities and be clear in the negotiating objectives about any impact on, for example, animal welfare, environmental protection, human rights and equalities and employment and labour, how they advance sustainable development goals and how they maintain UK levels of statutory protection on standards.
Proposed new subsections (6) and (7) reflect that there has been some progress from the Government, in that they have moved to develop further relationships with the respective committees in the Commons and here in this House. Discussions of a proposed protocol on those relationships are ongoing, and I welcome them. On the Written Ministerial Statement the Minister sent in advance of this debate, which I am grateful for seeing and on which I have reflected, I say to the Minister that it is not a substitute for other provisions, even though it is welcome that the Government have moved. I studied carefully the WMS, as I told the Minister I would. It repeats what the Minister said in Committee and outlines a little more about where the Government will provide information in a public domain. It also states a little more about the relationships with the committees. The subsections in this amendment would put such commitments on a statutory footing in addition to requiring the Government to inform the committees of developments in negotiations. This is not a considerable move from what the Government have indicated their intention is going forward. Proposed new subsection (6) makes clear that nothing in this will
“affect the power of the Secretary of State to conduct negotiations as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
Finally, proposed new subsection (9) requires an independent impact assessment of the agreement and consultation with each devolved authority on the text of the proposed agreement.
My final remarks will be on the update of the existing veto powers, as they have been termed, in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act. I say “update” because in Committee, it was broadly accepted that the House of Commons currently has some form of veto power in the 2010 Act, which itself updated the parliamentary convention and the Ponsonby rule. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, referenced this clearly. I referenced how Jack Straw, in introducing the legislation, stated to the House of Commons that the veto power would be put on a statutory footing. Whether or not we wish to look at the semantics of what a veto is, the same power for a two-clause treaty with little consequence and a trade treaty of 25,000 pages with significant consequences, notably for domestic policy, clearly draws to attention the fact that we should consider whether that same power is relevant for both types of treaties. We now know, by definition, that we now have deep and comprehensive trade agreements that go far beyond tariffs and quotas.
The Minister would accept that during the existence of the European Union, major reforms have been taken of the scrutiny powers of the European Parliament to update its powers. I am seeking an update of our powers.
In response to a previous Written Parliamentary Question, the Government published a glossy diagram showing how we compare with other comparable countries in a statement of parliamentary transparency and scrutiny offering some international comparison snapshots. That covered the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Japan—so the UK, three Commonwealth countries and Japan. The Minister said that we should not look to the European Union as a basis for comparison, because that is a multi-nation entity, and we have a uniquely British approach.
However, in today’s Written Ministerial Statement, the Minister indicates that we should base it on a Westminster-style system—effectively a Commonwealth style. Can the Minister say why the Department for International Trade, in citing three Commonwealth countries, have chosen three predominantly white, northern hemisphere countries? Why not include, for example, South Africa? Our trade with South Africa is double that of our trade with New Zealand, and it affords its Parliament a full vote on the deal. Why not use South Africa as an example, rather than Australia and New Zealand?
With regards to Japan, the Written Ministerial Statement was very interesting, because I can only suggest that it was an omission that the Government did not mention that Japan has a final parliamentary vote on the deal. In fact, as required by law, on 24 November the House of Representatives in Japan voted to give its agreement to the Japan-UK EPA. There is no reference to that in anything that the Government have published, so the Government pick and choose their examples.
The House is now being asked to consider an updating of the CRaG power. The CRaG power provides, in effect, a degree of limbo: the House of Commons can place a trade agreement into a period of limbo, if it is not fit for purpose, but the Government can then ratify it anyway. The fact that Parliament cannot conclude that the agreement is not right and should be renegotiated or reopened—or that certain aspects should be done again—but only put it into a limbo that the Government can override is not sufficient for the 21st century.
I hope that there will be continuing cross-party consensus, and that the Government will consider that I have moved, in the drafting of this amendment, to recognise the Government’s stated position on the use of prerogative powers. What we are seeking is a degree of consensus that by updating and making clearer the power of Parliament over these agreements at the beginning of the process, during the codifying and at the end of it, we will have a trade policy that is fit for purpose for the 21st century.
During this process, I have got to know the Minister as an honourable man, but I suspect that he may not have a damascene conversion at the Dispatch Box over this matter. I give notice that, if that does not happen, I intend to seek the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, who set out the arguments for Amendment 6 with his customary clarity and precision, for which the House will be most grateful. In large measure, I agree that we have managed to secure quite a degree of consensus on many of these issues, and it is useful now, on Report, to see to what extent we want to put statutory backing behind that consensus. We have come to the right place at the right time.
I will in due course refer to Amendment 12, which is in my name, but I shall start with Amendment 6. Both amendments are concerned with the processes by which international trade agreements are scrutinised and approved by Parliament. I emphasise to those worried about the wider aspects of treaty making that this is about international trade agreements; we are not seeking to go beyond the scope of this Bill and impact on the Government’s treaty-making powers in general.
Amendments 6 and 12 seek to achieve different purposes. Amendment 6 would require prior approval, by each House of Parliament, of the draft negotiating objectives before the Government could proceed with negotiations. It also places a number of statutory obligations on the Government to report developments to Parliament, and it would require Parliament to approve a draft agreement before it is signed. I emphasise signed—not, in this case, ratified. In each of those three respects, Amendment 6 marks a significant change in the extent to which Parliament is not only engaged in, but to some extent potentially able to control, the process of making a free trade agreement. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, that despite the assertion in the first subsection of his amendment that it would not restrict the prerogative power, it would in reality do so—by placing statutory limitations on the exercise of the prerogative power to proceed with negotiations.
Secondly, I share the view of the Constitution Committee of this House, which said in April 2019:
“We do not believe that Parliament should be required to endorse the Government’s mandate prior to commencing treaty negotiations.”
In that regard, I cannot support Amendment 6, because subsection (3) makes it very clear that parliamentary approval for such negotiating objectives is required.
However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, that there is a degree of consensus, and I subscribe to much of what is implied in Amendment 6: that the Government should seek the views of Parliament, as well as conduct a public and stakeholder consultation, when setting negotiating objectives. Parliament should be directly involved in that process, and the Government should provide updates to Parliament when significant developments occur during negotiations. Speaking as a member of the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee, I should say that our experience over recent months has been that the Minister and colleagues in his department have engaged with us substantively and constructively in the way that we would wish.
Secondly, the text of the Written Ministerial Statement, which the Minister was kind enough to send me last night, gives some reassurance as to the way in which Ministers intend to engage in future. It does not extend the nature of that engagement or change its statutory force, but to some extent it helps to answer the question that we asked repeatedly, at Second Reading and in Committee, about the extent to which the Government reiterate what was in the Command Paper back in February 2019. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend the Minister, in not only laying the WMS but responding to this debate, will continue to reiterate the Government’s full intentions in those respects.
That brings me to Amendment 12, which is in my name. This does not seek to restrict the Government’s right to initiate and conduct international trade agreements. It is focused only on the procedures by which Parliament is able, under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act—CRaG—to approve an agreement before ratification. Amendment 12 would strengthen the CRaG processes in relation to international trade agreements in three respects.
First, it would require Ministers to publish, with their agreement or before it, an analysis of how an agreement would need to be implemented into domestic legislation. As we have learnt repeatedly during debates on this Bill, Parliament’s principal constraint over the Government’s treaty-making power occurs when it requires changes to domestic legislation. Parliament has control over that. For example, there is no merit in a Government agreeing a treaty offering access to the UK market for a product that it would be unlawful to sell in this country, when they know that Parliament would not agree to change the law. We need to know if an agreement would require changes to domestic legislation, and that should be a key issue in deciding whether Parliament will approve ratification. Ministers should not ratify an agreement that Parliament would not implement.
That brings me to my second point. Amendment 12 would require that ratification of an international trade agreement should not take place before the identified changes to domestic legislation had been enacted, should they require primary legislation, or laid if in the form of regulations. I understand that this is now a convention, although not a formal one, but it should be a statutory requirement.
The third element is also about giving statutory force to a convention: Ministers would extend the 21-day period until any debate sought by a committee in either House had taken place. Ministers say, as they did in Committee, that they would endeavour to ensure that parliamentary time is found. However, if it is not, Ministers should have to extend the time under Section 21 of CRaG.
As I mentioned, this does not apply to all treaties but only to international trade agreements. It is also important to remember that it is not open to Ministers to say, “But this constrains us, because we may have to proceed for reasons of public policy and timing”; there will remain a power for Ministers to ratify a treaty as an exceptional case under Section 22 of CRaG, which enables Ministers—with a Statement to Parliament—to disapply Section 20. The ratification process can be dispensed with by Ministers in exceptional circumstances.
I ask my noble friend to accept Amendment 12, which gives statutory backing to what we regard as best practice. I suspect he may say that Ministers do not disagree that they would behave in this way and therefore we do not need the law to change for it to happen, but I am afraid it is a simple truth that conventions persist until they are dispensed with by a Government. It is clear that CRaG has a proper statutory mechanism for Ministers not to use its process for approval before ratification, but they should do so and use CRaG’s statutory proceeding for this purpose.
I do not regard Amendments 6 and 12 as mutually exclusive. I agree with a lot in Amendment 6, and I hope that those who support it will go on to support Amendment 12 so that the parliamentary approval process under CRaG is strengthened, as well as the processes by which Parliament is engaged in negotiating objectives during the course of negotiations.
I therefore give notice that, when Amendment 12 is reached, I wish to move it formally and, if necessary, test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I support Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the revision he has made as he has engaged with the Government. I am grateful for his very clear exposition and will be concise in my support.
Modern trade agreements affect huge swathes of public policy, including consumer and workers’ rights, environmental legislation, food standards, health, public services and international development. MPs, who represent constituencies and work with a variety of stakeholders, deserve the right to assess the consequences of an agreement, as does your Lordships’ House. It has been argued that Brexit is about the UK taking back power, but I fear the Government have perhaps not moved past the 2016 divide and view Parliament as a body waiting for a chance to take us back into the single market and intending to scupper any agreement. That is not the case. Colleagues only want the best for their constituencies and our nation. Any suggestion that the Government may be ruling through fiat will inevitably produce poorer outcomes.
What this amendment proposes is far from radical. As has already been alluded to, we are currently outliers on parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals. The UK lags behind on transparency and accountability compared to the US, the EU and Japan, among others. These are fair and reasonable measures that will protect the interests of local industries across the UK; this amendment will allow us to strike deals that benefit the entire economy. I hope that noble Lords will support Amendment 6.
My Lords, it is a privilege to add my name to Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, which he presented so articulately. This is a critically important Bill and I am concerned that, as with other Bills associated with leaving the European Union, we do not have much time. This new chapter in our history gives us a unique opportunity to make sure that we adopt best practice and put in place appropriate conditions and processes that reposition the UK as a global leading influence. I said during the debate on the Agriculture Bill that we should be ambitious and set the bar at a level that demonstrates our commitment to deliver on issues of deep concern. We will debate some of these later today.
The Trade Bill is an opportunity to make a statement about our intentions and ambitions as a nation. This principle also applies to the scrutiny process we put in place as a democracy to match the best of them, whether that of our former partners in the EU, the US or, as has been mentioned, Japan. We need to ensure that we have a transparent and robust process and that Parliament has the opportunity to be consulted and to debate the purpose, intention and outcome of trade deals. Government should see this amendment not as an attempt to slow down or thwart the negotiating process but as a helpful and positive contribution to give Ministers confidence in their negotiations. If this amendment is accepted, they will have the reassurance of having the backing and support of both Houses of Parliament. I hope that the Minister will accept this amendment.
My Lords, I am delighted to support Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and to follow the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, with whom I largely agree on this matter and on many similar matters we have debated in recent weeks.
The House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for finding a way around the difficulties which were raised against amendments in these areas in Committee and for overcoming the hurdle imposed by the prerogative considerations relating to trade deals. I cannot agree with the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on this dimension. His Amendment 12 could have an application for devolved Parliaments, for reasons I will qualify, but I recognise the general reasons he has put forward and will support him if he presses his amendment to a vote in due course.
As noble Lords might well anticipate, I speak from the viewpoint of the devolved Governments and Parliaments. In the context of Wales, in Committee we addressed several of the issues which might arise in the negotiation of free trade agreements. In Amendment 6, particularly subsection (9) of its proposed new clause, the obvious issue is whether the implications of free trade agreements could have an adverse impact on the economies of Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. The need for these devolved Governments to be drawn in at an early stage is twofold.
First, it is to enable them to alert the UK Government to any negative impact they might not have fully taken on board, not least negative effects on, say, farming, environmental dimensions or food safety considerations, which conflict with the devolved Governments’ policies on such devolved matters. Secondly, the beneficial provision of the proposed new clause in this amendment is to enable the devolved authorities to flag any special dimension that might help the devolved nations capitalise on new opportunities arising from trade negotiations, which would be beneficial for them and, possibly, the people of England.
I realise that trade treaties lie outside the ability of Parliament to amend as they progress, and that the devolved Governments will also have to work within parallel constraints. It is for another occasion for us to debate that principle, and I suggest that there are two sides to that argument. There can, however, be no doubt that the devolved Parliaments should have just as strong a voice on the impact of trade deals on matters within their competence as Westminster does on issues that impact policies that affect England only.
I would go further than this amendment provides, as we have in other legislation before Parliament, by requiring that, if the devolved Governments are not agreeable to the steps taken by the UK Government, there should be a requirement for ministerial explanation and a cooling-off period. That, however, is not before us today.
I have one last point. If Westminster is implacably opposed to the devolved Governments having their say in these matters, it will certainly only hasten the day when these Parliaments seek the powers to make international treaties for themselves to protect the interests of their people. Is that what noble Lords really want? I urge all sides to support this reasonable amendment and for the Government to accept it.
My Lords, I am happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and his underlining of the importance to be attached to the views of the devolved Administrations when dealing with trade agreements. I will speak to Amendments 6 and 12, on parliamentary scrutiny, with the experience I have gained as chair of your Lordships’ EU International Agreements Sub-Committee, but not on its behalf, save to the extent that I draw on reports already made by the committee. In any event, members of the committee are free to give their own views, and I note that some, including the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, are speaking in this debate.
There are two points I want to deal with. The first is to comment on the commitments made today by the Minister in the Written Ministerial Statement, to which attention has already been paid. I thank him for sending me a copy of that and I fully underline, support and agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that the Minister has been courteous, co-operative and helpful, so far, in his engagement with the committee on the trade agreements he is responsible for dealing with.
I welcome that the Government have put the commitments in the Written Ministerial Statement on the record today, and I look forward to hearing them repeated in this debate and to discussing and developing the detail to ensure that Parliament is able to scrutinise all future UK trade agreements meaningfully. As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has rightly underlined, these amendments deal with trade agreements only and not other international agreements. The committee that I chair is involved in those other agreements. The UK will be making many important new trade agreements, which can be just as crucial as the laws we make in Parliament. I will return to that point. Therefore, Parliament’s ability to scrutinise these agreements comprehensively will be of great importance.
I therefore commend the Government for their commitment to work with the International Trade Committee and the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee to ensure that we are briefed throughout the negotiations and have access to treaty texts and other related documents, to the extent necessary, on a confidential basis and at a reasonable time, before the start of the short 21-day scrutiny period set out in CRaG. This approach was introduced for the UK-Japan trade agreement, but will be particularly important for the upcoming US, Australia and New Zealand agreements, for which, unlike the Japan agreement, there will be no underlying EU agreements to refer to and make a comparison with.
Effective scrutiny, however, also requires that those who are affected by trade agreements, and experts, have the chance to comment on the consequences of any agreement. While “extensive stakeholder engagement”—I quote from the Government—on trade negotiations by the Government is welcome, it is imperative that specified stakeholders and experts also have early enough sight of the agreements to enable them to form a view and to feed into parliamentary scrutiny of the agreements. Again, this will be particularly relevant where there is no underlying EU agreement standing as a comparator and baseline.
The Written Ministerial Statement broadly reflects commitments previously made by the Government, notably in the February 2019 Command Paper to which attention has already been paid. But the Command Paper appears to contain a stronger commitment to the parliamentary scrutiny of negotiating objectives, stating that:
“At the start of negotiations the Government will publish its Outline Approach which, as described above, will include our negotiating objectives and be accompanied by a scoping assessment which will be informed by economic modelling, setting out the potential economic impacts of any agreement.”
Then there is this sentence:
“We will ensure that Parliament has a role in scrutinising these documents so that we can take its views into account before commencing negotiations.”
This last sentence is absent from the WMS and, in my capacity as chair of the EU International Agreements Sub-Committee, I would like to discuss with the Government how this commitment could be reinstated and the scrutiny of negotiating objectives strengthened.
I have previously referred the House to the statement by the great constitutionalist Walter Bagehot that:
“Treaties are quite as important as most laws, and to require the elaborate assent of representative assemblies to every word of the law, and not to consult them even as to the essence of the treaty, is prima facie ludicrous.”
I anticipate that, when the Minister replies, he will make some reference to Crown prerogative. In the Miller cases, the Supreme Court considered the relationship between Parliament and the Executive. In the Prorogation case, Miller No. 2, the court reviewed a number of cases where it had intervened to stop misuse of prerogative powers and considered the relationship with the principle of parliamentary scrutiny. It noted that
“the effect which the courts have given to Parliamentary sovereignty is not confined to recognising the status of the legislation enacted by the Crown in Parliament as our highest form of law. Time and again, in a series of cases since the 17th century, the courts have protected Parliamentary sovereignty from threats posed to it by the use of prerogative powers, and in doing so have demonstrated that prerogative powers are limited by the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty.”
As Lord Browne-Wilkinson said in the Fire Brigade Unions case, at page 552,
“The constitutional history of this country is the history of the prerogative powers of the Crown being made subject to the overriding powers of the democratically elected legislature as the sovereign body.”
I respectfully suggest that one should be wary of attributing too much sanctity to the position of Crown prerogative in today’s day and age. The question one should ask, when looking at the modest rights provided to Parliament under the CRaG Act, is whether they offer sufficient protection to Parliament. It might be argued that, while there may be few problems with a simple, straightforward agreement, where the answer as to whether Parliament consents is a binary yes or no, the answer should be different for complex trade agreements which may affect many facets of day-to-day life in the UK. In particular, the inability of Parliament to play a role until after an agreement has been signed is problematic, since it has no ability to press for its priorities to be included within the negotiating mandate or to amend the agreement once signed.
For that reason, Amendment 6, which seeks a greater role for Parliament, particularly in the discussion and determination of negotiating objectives, needs to be considered carefully. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, has clearly explained the purpose behind this amendment. It would give a greater role to Parliament in setting the negotiating objectives—not conducting the negotiations. That is difficult enough for a single body, such as the Cabinet of the country, but there is much to be said for setting the negotiating objectives. I therefore have much sympathy with this. As we noted, when we get to an agreement to be scrutinised by our committee or our fellow committee in the House of Commons, it comes with a take-it-or-leave-it question. For many, the answer is that it is better to have an agreement than not, but that does not mean it would not have been a good idea to have an opportunity to consider the negotiating objectives when they could have influenced the course of the negotiations.
As for Amendment 12, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who sits on the committee with me, has explained fully and, in my opinion, convincingly why his amendment would be valuable. It is of course much better to have commitments on the statute book than to have to depend upon oral commitments, so I agree with him about this amendment and have nothing to add in support of it.
Finally, I recognise that the process of scrutiny will be, to some extent, a partnership between government and Parliament. As I have said, I fully acknowledge the co-operative approach taken by the Minister and his colleagues in the department. As for practices, we will continue to look to improve those and I look forward, as I have said, to the further discussions envisaged by the Written Ministerial Statement to which I referred at the beginning of my remarks.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register.
I rise to support Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. I do so for two reasons. First, I believe that it provides a robust framework for the appropriate scrutiny of international trade agreements. The CRaG arrangements are not satisfactory. It is important that both civil society and Parliament have opportunities at the right time to scrutinise what is going through and what is being negotiated. I hope that the changes that have been made since we discussed these issues in Committee will convince the Government that they can agree to this amendment. I support it not just on the principle of parliamentary scrutiny but because the amendment sets out the areas to be covered in both the sustainability impact assessment in subsection (4) and the independent assessment in subsection (9).
In his contribution, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans reminded us that trade agreements cover a huge swathe of public policy. As was suggested during earlier stages of the Bill, there is a temptation to consider that there is a simple economic impact that is the criterion by which we judge trade agreements. I do not believe that that is sustainable. We run the risk of importing into this country goods and services that diminish our stated—and, indeed, our statutory—responsibilities in areas such as climate change and environmental protection.
Equally, we run the risk of losing opportunities in the huge green economy that is coming. We have seen that the Government recognise this. There have been some welcome recent developments, such as the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan and our raised commitments on climate change and emissions, but it is really important that we go from these high-level aspirations to ensuring that we implement and integrate these commitments—particularly on the environment and climate change—into policy and legislation. That is not some soft, optimistic, rose-coloured view of the world; indeed, the Prime Minister himself said:
“Green and growth can go hand-in-hand.”
If that is so, we must look at what trade agreements we implement and how they fit in with our responsibilities and aspirations.
In Committee, I was critical of the fact that there was no mention anywhere in the Bill of the environment and climate change. I ought to pay tribute to the Minister and the Government for making clear in the Written Ministerial Statement and accepting the argument that a wide swathe of policies are affected by trade deals, saying that, when they publish the proposed independently verified impact assessment, it will cover the economic and environmental impacts of the deal. As I understand it, the legal advice is that “environmental” would cover climate change—I am delighted to see the Minister nodding on that—so I hope that we can move from that progress, which I very much welcome and am grateful for, to accepting this amendment and making this a statutory requirement.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 6 in the name of my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed. I will also refer briefly to Amendment 12 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.
I served on the Joint Committee that examined the draft legislation that eventually emerged as the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—usually referred to as CRaG, as it has been during the debates on this Bill. On that committee, we were quite clear that we sought to correct the previous anomaly, which enabled the Government of the day to push through very significant international treaties with minimal or non-existent parliamentary scrutiny. There was a great deal of pressure for extensive ratification rights for both Houses, not least from Conservative colleagues who were, of course, in opposition then. However, we eventually resolved—for the sake of unanimity on the committee—on a minimalist compromise. Part 2 of CRaG therefore provided only for both Houses to have a statutory right to scrutinise treaties, with the Commons given a theoretical power to delay ratification. Under that Act, neither House had an obligation to debate the terms of a proposed treaty, let alone vote on it, but both could seek assurances and explanations from the appropriate Minister before consenting to ratification.
It is important to remind your Lordships that, in 2010, we were all in a totally different political and diplomatic environment. The United Kingdom was involved—and bringing extensive experience to bear—in combined treaty negotiations with our EU partners. However, our Government, and therefore our Parliament, were not engaged in the intricate details and the much higher level of trade discussions that now face us, with unprecedented complexity and significance for the future of our nation. In its report from April 2019, Parliamentary Scrutiny of Treaties, the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House put the challenge very well, saying that
“the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 were enacted in a time where leaving the EU had not been seriously contemplated.”
This was its primary conclusion:
“The current mechanisms available to Parliament to scrutinise treaties through CRAG are limited and flawed.”
That has obviously been repeated often this afternoon. I am sure that all members of that Joint Committee would join with me in accepting the wisdom of that contemporary view.
Moreover, it was endorsed by the EU Committee in its June 2019 report, Scrutiny of International Agreements: Lessons Learned, which stated:
“We therefore agree with the Constitution Committee that the CRAG Act is poorly designed to facilitate parliamentary scrutiny of treaties.”
In its following report, Treaty Scrutiny: Working Practices—dated July 2020—the committee went on to warn that cosmetic changes, with no statutory backing, would be unlikely to be sufficient. It said:
“If we cannot make treaty scrutiny work within the current framework, legislative change may prove the only means to ensure adequate scrutiny of international agreements.”
Ministerial Statements are not the same thing. Therefore, the first justification for my noble friend’s amendment—now supported by distinguished Members from many parts of the House—is that it carefully and comprehensively spells out the essential elements for detailed parliamentary scrutiny for all new international trade agreements. As my noble friend Lord Purvis stated earlier, in essence, this amendment updates CRaG to meet the dramatically different requirements of Brexit and establishes a critical, crucial constitutional principle.
In the debate on the committee report in your Lordships’ House, my noble friend Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, drawing on her experience in EU negotiations, commented:
“The Government’s approach is overly biased towards maximising their secretive freedom, believing that that always enables playing their best hand. That is not my experience. The Government can be in a stronger negotiating position if Parliament is on their side on the journey.”—[Official Report, 7/9/20; col. GC 130.]
That view has been reiterated this afternoon.
The second, very substantial justification for this amendment relates to the peculiarly significant scope of this Bill. First, it is a subject of unique importance to our fellow citizens. The trade it deals with could impact not just on the concerns of food producers and processors but of everybody who eats—you cannot get more universal than that. We will come back to these concerns when we consider the later clauses and amendments on the Trade and Agriculture Commission.
For now, we need only register the emphatic support for Amendment 6 from the farmers’ unions, also referred to earlier. When I was first elected, Conservative candidates and MPs were much more respectful of the views of the farming community and of the NFU than they appear to be now, but I trust that Ministers do not completely ignore their advice. In its excellent memorandum for this debate, the NFU is unequivocal in endorsing Amendment 6:
“Securing the backing of MPs and Peers for these deals through votes in Parliament not only improves democratic accountability for UK trade policy, but also strengthens the hand of negotiators in establishing red lines and legitimately stating what will and will not be negotiable if a deal is to be secured.”
Its support for Amendment 6 is summarised as follows:
“New and clear arrangements that improve Parliamentary oversight and democratic accountability are critical as we ‘take back control’ of our independent trade policy.”
It would be a sad day when a Conservative Government refused to listen to the NFU.
Secondly, the Bill strays into very controversial territory in its challenges to the devolution settlements. As other Members have emphasised at all stages of the Bill, the dangers could not be more dire. In the Committee debate on the Bill on 8 October, my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie summarised the serious concerns expressed from all parts of the House:
“Far-reaching decisions under the Agriculture Bill, the Trade Bill and the forthcoming Internal Market Bill put the devolution settlements and the integrity of the United Kingdom under immense strain … Ministerial insensitivity and indifference are, frankly, turbocharging nationalism and separatism.”—[Official Report, 8/10/20; cols. GC 220-22.]
I hope that the Minister responding to this debate will accept the strength of concern on this issue and the need for the amendment to address it.
Finally, I turn to Amendment 12, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, which has self-evident merit. It was always a weakness of the very limited procedure set out in CRaG that the timing and sequence of any parliamentary scrutiny could not guarantee a coherent process. For example, if the more rigorous role of the Commons preceded any detailed scrutiny in this House, by definition, the decision of MPs to ratify a treaty or to withhold ratification could be taken without the benefit of the views of your Lordships. That would clearly be farcical.
The improvement suggested here would ensure a more rational sequence for debate and for relevant consequent primary and secondary legislation. Amendment 12 seems to me a useful addition but, as the noble Lord clearly appreciates, it is no substitute for the essential scrutiny requirements of the cross-party Amendment 6. As my noble friend Lord Purvis emphasised, nothing compares in clarity with inclusion in the Bill. The restatement of a convention, or even a Written Ministerial Statement, is no substitute for inclusion in the law of the land. As far as I can see, these two amendments are entirely complementary, and I hope the Minister will accept them both as clearly strengthening the whole Bill.
My Lords, these two amendments have much to commend them and dovetail neatly with parts of my Amendment 7, which we will consider in a moment: in particular, that any trade agreement or report from the Trade and Agriculture Commission should be laid before Parliament in sufficient time for it to be considered. I will go into more detail when we come to that group of amendments, but it would also extend the period during which a vote shall be held in each House to up to 42 days, so there is an overlap between Amendment 6 and my Amendment 7. This is important for the reasons set out by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, my noble friend Lord Lansley and others, particularly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who chairs the committee and speaks with great authority on these issues. There must be time for both Houses of Parliament to consider those agreements, in the terms set out by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and others supporting Amendment 6.
I refer again to the useful table included on page 77 of the National Food Strategy, part 1, which I refer to as the Dimbleby report, part 1, which sets out the scrutiny of trade agreements in the various legislative Chambers. It is true that in Australia, Parliament must vote on legislation to implement a trade agreement only where it requires changes to national laws. However, tariffs are set in statute in Australia, so that effectively gives Parliament a vote on trade treaties. For TTIP, the House in Australia spent two days debating the treaty and the Senate one day. In Canada, as in Australia, Parliament does not have a formal vote on treaties; the Executive must lay a deal before Parliament 21 days before any action to implement the agreement is taken. However, as in Australia, Canada’s tariffs are set in statute, so again, Parliament inevitably needs to vote on the deal as a whole as well as any implementing legislation.
Perhaps the most thorough—albeit that we are leaving the European Union—is the European Union process itself. In New Zealand, Parliament must vote on legislation to implement the trade agreement, which means that the treaty is voted on again by the House only if it requires a change in domestic legislation. It has already been said that in Japan, the approval of the National Diet, the Japanese Parliament, is required for any trade agreement to come into force, and in Switzerland, all trade agreements must be approved by the Federal Assembly, the Swiss Parliament. If 50,000 Swiss citizens request it, they must be put to a referendum. Our scrutiny of trade agreements—not continuity agreements but new agreements, where, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, identified, there is no underlying EU agreement—is deficient compared to that of other national jurisdictions and Parliaments.
I have sympathy with Amendment 6, although I will go on to explain when we come to the group beginning with Amendment 7 why I believe that my wording is preferable.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I support the objectives of Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and colleagues, which seeks to ensure that trade deals are subject to parliamentary scrutiny and that consultation takes place with the devolved Administrations, a feature that is currently missing. This is particularly acute as we have just three weeks until the end of the transition period and do not know whether there is to be a trade deal or whether, if agreed, it will be zero tariff, or whether the UK will be operating under WTO rules.
This amendment, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and other noble Lords, has been supported by the Trade Justice Movement and Greener UK. It has five properties, which are very important for the scrutiny of trade deals. First, before negotiations, there will be a debate and vote by MPs on the Government’s negotiating objectives; secondly, during negotiations, there will be additional scrutiny through a dedicated parliamentary committee; thirdly, after negotiations, there will be a vote in both Houses on a final deal, prior to ratification; fourthly, there will be mandatory sustainability impact assessments on the impact of the new trade deal on the environment, public health, human rights and global development; and, fifthly, there will be consultation with the devolved authorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said, those things absolutely are important. Coming from Northern Ireland and having been a representative of the devolved institution there, I say that it is important that we recognise and acknowledge the devolution settlements.
Those five provisions offer a considerable improvement on the level of parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals in the UK, whose processes lag behind those of the EU and other countries. The current treaty scrutiny system, as outlined in the CRaG Act, is inadequate and has been criticised by five parliamentary committees, including the Lords Constitution Committee and the Lords International Agreements Sub-Committee.
Modern trade agreements affect large parts of public policy, including consumer and workers’ rights, environmental and climate change legislation, food standards, health, public services and international development. In such a context, it is vital that trade deals are developed democratically. I support Amendment 6. I also support Amendment 12, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. If the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, eventually presses his amendment, I will support him in the Lobbies this evening.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. I agree with everything that she said. I was going to speak only to Amendment 6 but the opening speech on Amendment 12 was very convincing, so if the House divides on either amendment, I shall vote for them.
My problem with the Bill is one that I have had for the last two years with this Government—particularly in the last year, when they have kept trying to reduce our democracy. I simply do not understand how a Conservative Government can justify that. If they were sitting on the Opposition Benches at the moment, they would be shouting loudest about how corrupt it all was and how we were trying to take power back for the people, not for politicians, and so on. For me, it is incredibly frustrating constantly to hear and see these attacks on democracy. I do not think that this Government have a clue about it.
We have discussed these issues more than once over the past four years; it is getting quite repetitive. When we in this House amend and improve any legislation, it goes back to the Commons and then of course it is all whipped out or the Bill is delayed for a few years, so in some ways all our work is for nothing. With this Bill, the Government are again trying to bypass scrutiny. Why would they want to do that? Scrutiny helps—it can highlight the problems, as well as improvements—so why anybody would want to do that, I just do not understand. It should be enough, even for the most loyal Conservatives on the Government Benches, to ask, “What on earth we are doing here? Why are we bothering? There is all this hard work from the second Chamber and it comes to nothing.”
The Greens believe that the market and the economy should serve the people, not necessarily politicians or even big business. Therefore, I strongly support Amendment 6. It is a case of caring very much about climate change, the environment, workers’ rights and the quality of our food; I just do not understand why the Government are choosing to fight this. I accept that having a huge majority in the Commons means that they can pretty much do what they like, but why would they? Why not honour some of the promises that they made in the Brexit debate and give power back to the people?
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, although I cannot accept her diagnosis of this being an attack on democracy. I shall make just three short points, because we do not want this to go on all day.
First, noble Lords who have brought forward these amendments have not adduced any evidence as to why they are needed. The core procedures for the handling of treaties have served this country well. The Ponsonby rule, which the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, reminded us of again today, is now enshrined in CRaG. As I said, no practical issues have been put forward for these amendments being needed. The Government have responded to the desire, as expressed by both Houses of Parliament, for more information and more involvement in the processes of scrutiny of trade treaties, most recently in the latest Ministerial Written Statement. I think that I am the only noble Lord speaking here today who has not seen a copy of that Statement but I am sure that it is splendid.
My second point is on the royal prerogative and prerogative power. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lansley that, despite Amendment 6 saying that it does not seek to override or diminish prerogative power, its effect is that, in practical terms, it does so—in particular, in relation to the approval of the negotiating objectives, which is not part of our current processes—and could easily restrict the prerogative power available to government. That is why I think that the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House did not recommend that we go down that route.
My third point is on parliamentary accountability. Both amendments in this group are predicated on a view that parliamentary accountability requires legislation to make it effective. That is plainly not in accord with our parliamentary history. It is also, I submit, a dangerous route to go down. The strength of the UK’s parliamentary system is its capacity to evolve constantly, as we have seen in relation to free trade agreements with the way in which the Government have been open to involving Parliament increasingly and in different ways, including through engagement with committees.
If we wrote too much into legislation, that could work against the flexibility that is the hallmark of our system and has served us well, in particular over the last couple of years. I believe that that could end up being Parliament’s loss at the end of the day. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, referred to the constructive partnership that has been emerging between his committee on treaties and the Government, and the practical ways in which the work of his excellent committee is being helped to be effective. I have to say to noble Lords that the more you codify, the more it is less likely that constructive partnership becomes the hallmark of an ongoing approach. Noble Lords really cannot have it both ways.
My Lords, I also find Amendment 6 rather severe: not only is it asking for accountability to Parliament but it challenges the entire CRaG process. However, I accept that there is strong public feeling on this, which is confronting the Government’s post-Brexit policy directly and the political impetus towards global free trade. Many stakeholders and charities have already commented on several FTAs currently passing through Parliament; they want to be sure that there are safeguards throughout the process of scrutiny, and I understand that. I agree in principle with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the right reverend Prelate. It is an impressive spectrum of opinion.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, refers to CRaG as minimalist, and he may well be right. However, I said earlier in our proceedings on the Bill that I had accepted the Government’s view that they had been flexible and that CRaG was, for the time being, fit for purpose and need not be altered yet—at least not radically. We have made a good start. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, uses the word “consensus”; I admire what I know of the European Parliament’s scrutiny processes, especially its opening up to civil society in all member countries, but I have misgivings about a debate on the objectives of every FGA, because I can guess how much it would slow down our own process.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made an important point about domestic legislation, but all this adds to the CRaG process. It is desirable, and there may be a time for it, but as we are entering a new era of trade agreements, we should wait to see how our existing process will cope with so much demand. Do we have the resources to do this? I am not sure whether the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has taken that on board. We have already missed the boat with a row of important new agreements, either past or imminent. I suggest instead that CRaG and the issue of 21 days should be reviewed in a year’s time. So while I am sympathetic to the amendment I may have to abstain on the vote.
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness was unable to give us the benefit of her wisdom.
An advantage of being “tail-end Charlie” as the last speaker of 15, is that most of the points have already been made, which helps to speed things up. Let me start with Amendment 12 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley. He made some convincing arguments and, unless the Minister can convince me otherwise, we should support the amendment. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said that CRaG was fit for purpose. I contend that it is not. It was designed in another era, when we were part of the EU and the EU was doing our trade deals. Now we are doing our own trade deals—good luck to the Minister and godspeed to all his civil servants; they will need it in this complicated world. The trade deals that we negotiated 50 years ago are hugely different from those we are negotiating now. Today’s deals are much more complex and involve not only trade but each and every one of us—the environment, biodiversity, the way we live. Therefore, it is important that Parliament is properly involved.
How complex trade deals have become is the compelling argument for Parliament to be given a statutory right to look into these matters. Trade deals are only going to get more complicated, therefore the discrepancy between the current situation, which is out of date, and what is needed in the future, is growing. Effective scrutiny by Parliament on a statutory basis would improve the quality of decision-making. Nothing hones a civil servant’s pen quite like getting Parliament to have a good look at what they are doing.
We have heard that a common objection to the wording of Amendment 6 is that it ties the Government’s negotiating arms and affects their room to negotiate with the other side. I do not think it does. In America, Congress is a very useful weapon that the US negotiators use. They constantly say, “We couldn’t possibly get that through Congress”. Our discussions with the EU are at a very delicate stage, and if there had been a mandate from Parliament that one of the negotiating objectives of this Government was that we would be a sovereign state equal to the EU, we would not be having prevarications with some of the EU states. We would have had a much better chance of getting a deal. Rather than the Prime Minister saying: “We are going to be a sovereign state”, he could quite rightly say: “Parliament has said that we are going to be a sovereign state”. That would have saved a lot of the rather frustrating and silly discussions that are going on at the last minute. It would also consolidate the position of the UK as a serious negotiating partner which will ratify whatever deal is agreed if Parliament has had a proper say.
I am very much aware that the Minister has made concessions on a number of points, but that is not the same as having them in statute. In this day and age, given what has happened in America and how the EU looks at its trade deals and has adapted, it is time that we adapted and took a firmer view, giving Parliament the statutory backing that it needs to look at these matters, but not to the extent of tying the hands of the Minister and the Government in any negotiating deal. Therefore, I support Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.
My Lords, I am sorry that technical difficulties meant that I could not come in just now. I support Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, who made the case for it comprehensively. In Committee, the involvement of the devolved Administrations in consultation over trade was stressed whenever UK Ministers wished to make an agreement that included issues that fall within devolved competences. Respect for, and consideration of, the devolved responsibilities and implications of agreements will result in clearer communication between Westminster and the Government, in better relations with the devolved Administrations, and in clear messages to the population overall. This amendment would bring agreement centrally into Westminster, not disrupted by protesting voices from devolved nations that fuel separatist movements. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has set out the benefits with arguments that I endorse.
On issues relating to health we discussed at length the importance of the Government’s commitment that the NHS is not up for sale. This country’s unique databases have enormous potential value. As health, whether human, animal or ecological, is a devolved responsibility, it is essential that anything touching on health in its broadest context is the subject of consultation with the devolved Administrations. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, eloquently stressed that Ministers should not ratify an agreement that would not be approved by Parliament. In respecting the royal prerogative, the individual nations must not find themselves sidelined.
Amendment 6 is essential to consolidate, not destabilise, the united nature of the United Kingdom. To break up the United Kingdom would indeed be an “abject failure of statecraft”.
My Lords, we have had a good and wide-ranging debate today. I want to pick up on the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who introduced Amendment 6, which I have signed, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, whom I thank for his clear introduction to Amendment 12, which we also support. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is not a normal ally on many of the issues we have discussed in your Lordships’ House over the years. However, he made the point about the importance of trade so well that I wanted to endorse it. Trade is now central to our existence as a country and very important to the individuals who live here because it impacts on almost every aspect of our lives.
The issues that have dominated this debate are interrelated with the three key issues that have been around since your Lordships’ House first discussed trade when considering the original trade Bill, but they are also separate. They are interrelated because they all rely on Parliament and the Executive co-operating in a constructive partnership, which I agree exists, to achieve the best outcomes for the UK, as has already been mentioned. The issues are: the non-regression of standards—dealt with in Amendment 22 and addressed in Amendment 12, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley; the scrutiny of trade agreements and the objectives, and progress made towards those objectives in the final texts; and the process of ratification. These issues are not so separate that they require separate approaches, but they point to different directions under different sources of authority. I believe that, with constructive partnership, the Government and those debating these issues today are not far apart, and it should be possible to get at least a working way forward, even if we cannot find the exact words we want today.
We must recognise that we are in a bit of a quandary. What we thought was a settled set of positions has turned out to be a moving target. A good example is the recent amendment of the Agriculture Bill during its progress between the other place and your Lordships’ House. Amendments were made which effectively support the non-regression of standards, at least in relation to agriculture and the environment. Clearly, that reads across to this Bill, and we will need to return to that issue when we consider Amendment 22. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said, a Written Ministerial Statement issued this morning offers greater reassurance regarding the practices and processes required under the present scrutiny and approval arrangements. However, these are not underpinned by statute and there are limitations in respect of some of the issues the Committee will want to raise with the Minister.
Given that we are slightly uncertain as to the Government’s position, how do we want to progress? Where do we want to go with these issues? I hope this debate has revealed that there is a modest but good case for a 21-st century model for how we do trade. We are the only major democracy which does not allow Parliament a role—the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, made that clear in her résumé of the issues in play in other countries. If we do not do something at this stage, trade will be the only public policy area effectively off limits for the UK Parliament. That is unacceptable.
Amendment 6, as has been said, tries to engage with the Government’s red lines. It recognises the royal prerogative, but it is wise to bear in mind the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, about not sacrificing our objectives and principles in pursuit of the royal prerogative. It has been challenged over the years and continues to be debated in relation to parliamentary sovereignty, which we all believe to be more important. Amendment 6 provides a schema that would give Parliament the effectiveness it currently lacks in reviewing and approving trade negotiations, and I commend it to your Lordships’ House.
However, that issue is best addressed by Amendment 12, which focuses on parliamentary procedures under the CRaG legislation. It includes a very important element which we have not debated sufficiently: an analysis of changes in domestic legislation if, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, that is required by a future trade agreement; and a requirement to undertake those changes before ratification, ensuring that the statute book is in order before we sign up and implement the deal negotiated for us. It looks very hard at the 21-day period of consideration but, in the spirit of partnership, does not challenge the Government’s wish to retain CRaG. However, it ensures that time is made available, not because the Opposition want to debate these issues, but because the Government do. As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, it does not limit ratification in exceptional circumstances. It does the trick of trying to find a 21-st century model, without tearing up the existing position. We will support that amendment if the noble Lord chooses to test the opinion of the House at the end of this debate.
We are not trying to be too radical; we are trying to be fair and reasonable. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said, we do not want to lag behind everyone else on transparency. There is a consensus for change. If we support Amendment 6 and vote through Amendment 12, we will get a long way down that track.
I would like to thank noble Lords for the courteous way in which this debate has been conducted. I will begin with Amendment 6, in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Purvis of Tweed, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and Lord Curry of Kirkharle, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. During the passage of this legislation, I believe there has been a general acceptance on all sides of the importance of Parliament’s being able to effectively scrutinise trade policy, including our new FTAs with the likes of the US, Australia and New Zealand. We have consistently ensured that there is sufficient scope for Parliament to do this.
The Government have taken a number of important steps, and it is pleasing that noble Lords recognise this and have supported us. For example, we have shared extensive and comprehensive information with Parliament ahead of negotiations with the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. On 12 October, I made a Written Ministerial Statement setting out the transparency and scrutiny arrangements for specific international trade deals, starting with Japan. Today, I have made a further comprehensive statement setting out arrangements for trade agreements with the United States, Australia and New Zealand and the UK’s proposed accession to the CPTPP. I believe this statement adds further weight to the enhanced procedures we have already outlined. I was pleased that the nobel Baroness, Lady Hayman, picked up on and welcomed the reference to environmental impacts, and grateful for the pragmatic comments about the statement from the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. I was also grateful for the comments made about the statement by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson.
I believe that our approach to transparency, and openness to scrutiny by Parliament and stakeholders, is at least as strong as any other Westminster-style democracy, such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that nothing should be read into the omission of South Africa from this list.
Your Lordships have drawn comparisons between our approach and those taken by the EU and US. They are more similar to each other with their federalised arrangements, than they are to the UK. The European Commission negotiates on behalf of the interests of the 27 member states and its scrutiny arrangements reflect the specific and unique structure of the EU. The same applies to the US. The role the US Congress plays in scrutinising international trade agreements is a product of the constitutional make-up of the United States. I suggest it would be wholly inappropriate for the UK, with our own unique constitutional framework, to import the regime of another country, particularly one where the constitutional circumstances differ so markedly.
We have frequently repeated our commitment to ensuring a transparent trade policy and we have delivered on this time and time again. We have made significant progress in this space. We have listened to concerns from parliamentarians and have taken actions to address them, including putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission tack on to a statutory footing, which will be discussed in the next group of amendments.
We have kept Parliament regularly updated on the negotiations as they have progressed. We have done this via Written Ministerial Statements to update Parliament on key milestones and we have held regular, open briefing sessions for all parliamentarians throughout the negotiations on our FTAs. We have engaged closely with the International Trade Committee and the International Agreements Sub-Committee, including writing to the chairs of both committees at every key stage and facilitating private briefings for them with Ministers and our chief negotiators. My noble friend Lord Lansley, as a member of the IASC, has seen us in action on this and has complimented us on it. We will continue to share confidential treaty text on the FTAs that are currently under negotiation, and on the CPTPP when it comes down the track, with the ITC and the IAS. We will ensure that they both have time to produce a report on any such concluded agreement before it is laid before Parliament under the CRaG procedure.
I hope noble Lords will also realise and accept that we have demonstrated this with the Japan agreement. I accept absolutely the importance of this, as described so cogently by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. Both of the committees’ reports on Japan have now been published, with, if I may say, both committees praising the engagement that they have had with my department. The IASC report notes that
“DIT has been a constructive partner in helping to determine the right processes by which parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s new function of negotiating trade deals can be facilitated.”
In addition, the ITC and IASC reports congratulate the Government on their achievement in securing the Japan agreement, noting the warm welcome that it has had from witnesses in their inquiries.
I turn to the devolved Administrations. The Government have always been clear that we want to engage meaningfully with them on our trade policy. As Counsel General for Wales, Jeremy Miles MS, recently confirmed in his evidence on 19 November to the Welsh Affairs Committee, the DIT has listened to the devolved Administrations. We have established a new ministerial forum on trade and we have used it to consult the DAs on all of our trade agreements. The forum has met three times already this year and will meet for a fourth time later this week. I can assure the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that our desire to engage with the devolved Administrations is both deep and sincere, and we will continue to do so. I believe that putting these arrangements into statute would upset this balance. While in practice, the Government engage with the devolved Administrations on international trade policy, it is important to remember that this has legal status as a reserved matter. We have to take care to preserve this status.
I turn to impact assessments. The Government are committed to an inclusive and transparent trade policy. Scoping assessments are published to assess analytically the impacts of new FTAs in advance of negotiations, and following the conclusion of negotiations currently in train, a full impact assessment will be published prior to implementation. This will be presented to Parliament, alongside the final treaty text, together with an explanatory memorandum to aid parliamentarians in their scrutiny role. Of course, this is in addition to the CRaG procedure. We will also ensure that the impact assessments are independently scrutinised by the Regulatory Policy Committee.
In drafting the amendment, I welcome the fact that the noble Lord has tried to address our point at previous stages of the Bill; namely, that the negotiation and making of treaties, including international trade agreements, is a function of the Executive held under the royal prerogative. However, despite the drafting of subsection (1), that
“Nothing in this section restricts the power conferred by Her Majesty’s prerogative to commence, conduct negotiations towards and then conclude a trade agreement”,
I am afraid that the amendment does exactly that because it places restrictions on the ability of the Government to enter into treaty negotiations and to ratify treaties. With all due respect to the drafters of the amendment, it starts by saying one thing and then it goes on to say another. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lady Noakes for also spotting that and pointing it out to your Lordships.
Giving Parliament a veto over our negotiating objectives would curtail the royal prerogative, whatever the preamble to the proposed new clause says, and would limit our flexibility to negotiate in the best interests of the UK. I know that noble Lords are aware that the Constitution Committee of this House recommended in its 2019 report on the scrutiny of treaties that mandates for treaties should not be subject to parliamentary approval.
Ultimately, if Parliament is not content with a trade agreement that we have negotiated, it can—like for the majority of all other treaties—raise concerns by resolving against ratification under the statutory CRaG procedure. Under that, as noble Lords will know well, Parliament can delay ratification indefinitely, giving it, in effect, the power to block ratification. The Government are committed to a transparent trade policy with comprehensive engagement with Parliament. We have already demonstrated this and we will continue to do so. The Government have moved a long way in developing comprehensive scrutiny arrangements that are appropriate to our constitutional make-up.
I turn now to Amendment 12 in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley. I thank him for the amendment. He and I have already had constructive discussions on the topic, and I think it is fair to say that we are in mutual agreement on the importance of strong parliamentary scrutiny and the transparency of our trade deals.
On implementing our trade deals, noble Lords will be aware that it has long been UK practice not to ratify international agreements until any necessary implementing legislation has been passed domestically. This is a well-established process that the FCDO has followed historically for treaties for centuries in order to ensure that the UK will not be in breach of the treaty when it enters into force. The Government have no intention of deviating from this process in relation to our new trade agreements. However, we believe that putting this on to a statutory footing would be inappropriate and would deprive and restrict the Government’s flexibility in the conclusion of our international trade agreements, as well as curtailing the treaty-making prerogative.
I know that my noble friend has expressed concerns about the level of detail in the explanatory memorandums that are laid alongside treaties. I agree with him that Parliament should know clearly how the Government intend to implement any commitments made in an FTA and what legislation Parliament will need to pass in order to implement it domestically. I would argue that, in part, we already do this. For example, in paragraph 5 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the recent Japan agreement, we outline how the agreement will be implemented in domestic legislation. It includes details on how commitments in specific policy areas, such as tariffs, procurement and technical barriers to trade, will be implemented, and where legislation will need to change. I can say without reservation that I would be more than happy to explore with my noble friend how we might make this clearer and more useful to parliamentarians. However, I do not believe that this is an issue which is best resolved in legislation.
In respect of facilitating debates on FTAs as part of CRaG, we have been clear that the Government will facilitate requests for debate on the agreement—including, of course, those from the relevant Select Committees—with the only caveat being that it is subject to available parliamentary time. As many noble Lords know far better than I, it would not be appropriate for the Government to guarantee debating time in the way suggested in this amendment. As I am sure my noble friend with his ministerial experience can appreciate, any Minister would like to be able to guarantee debating time. However, the pandemic and other matters have shown us the need to remain flexible in how we manage precious parliamentary time.
I assure noble Lords—I said this in Committee and willingly repeat it now—that it is not the Government’s intention to shy away from scrutiny. I believe that scrutiny gives us better free trade agreements; the Government want these agreements to be examined by parliamentarians and effectively scrutinised. I hope that noble Lords do not mind my saying that the Government’s practical record on this has been good. Requests for debates have been met, most recently on our FTA with Japan, which was debated in your Lordships’ House on 26 November. I am very pleased that 31 speakers participated in that debate, which followed on from the six earlier debates on our continuity agreements that we facilitated. I hope that these will be the first of many debates on our forthcoming agreements that the Government will facilitate, where—I repeat—parliamentary time allows.
This debate has allowed me to outline the extensive steps that the Government have taken to ensure that Parliament has an effective scrutiny role in the constitutional context of the UK. This includes our long-standing commitments to provide comprehensive information to Parliament in advance of starting negotiations—beyond what many other partner countries undertake—along with conducting thorough engagement throughout negotiations. In addition, we have further enhanced arrangements at the end of negotiations. On this point, I thank noble Lords for helping us to shape these arrangements; I am sure that we will continue to shape and improve them as we go forward. Noble Lords have helped to improve the process of FTA scrutiny and, frankly, persuaded the Government to bring forward their amendments on the Trade and Agriculture Commission. The EU International Agreements Sub-Committee of your Lordships’ House persuaded the Government to ensure that it is given time ahead of the start of the CRaG period to produce a report on the agreement. This will ensure that your Lordships are better informed and able to scrutinise our new agreements more effectively.
As many noble Lords have expressed over the course of this Bill, this is the first time in nearly 50 years that the UK has undertaken trade negotiations; I hope that noble Lords recognise that my officials are not doing a bad job of it. I believe that we should utilise the flexibilities afforded to us under our constitutional arrangements to ensure a robust scrutiny process. I repeat the Government’s commitment to continue to ensure that these arrangements remain fit for purpose, working in close collaboration with the relevant committees.
I hope that I have been able to address your Lordships’ concerns adequately. I therefore ask my noble friend Lord Lansley not to move his amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for a very thorough response; he will find out how persuasive I have found him in a moment after I draw out two or three points from the debate. I am grateful to all those who have taken part and, indeed, for the support that I have received, including from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara.
I have been a Member of this House for seven years. While the noble Lord was making his remarks, I reflected on the fact that if the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, supports a liberal amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, persuades a Green Peer, it is pretty evident that there is some cross-party backing. We can rely on the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, to be consistent in her position. I am grateful to her. She always makes me think in these debates, even though she does not often persuade me. I have a copy of the Written Ministerial Statement, which I can share with her if she likes; I am afraid that it is rather heavily annotated, which will not surprise her. I think the point that she made was ably addressed by the noble Earl. Yes, these are our first trade negotiations in 50 years, but almost by definition, as the noble Earl and the noble Baroness indicated, these agreements are very different in nature from those of 50 years ago. They are primarily concerned with non-tariff measures rather than tariff measures.
I agree with the Minister that our approach must suit our own unique constitutional arrangements. With regard to that, the Minister should reflect that the prerogative power is not a static thing as part of those constitutional arrangements. It has been demonstrated that there have been changes in the use of that prerogative power over many years. It used to be a prerogative power that Parliament had no say in the deployment of troops, for example; this is now recognised to be rather different. I assure the Minister as the drafter of this amendment that amendments do not get tabled in this House without the beady eye of the Public Bill Office ensuring that one clause does not contradict another. So I believe in the robustness of this amendment, but I am grateful for his advice.
If I were arguing that, if Parliament is not content with the Trade Bill, it can raise any concerns it may have over a trade deal by resolving against ratification and delaying any implementing legislation indefinitely, I think that the noble Baroness would be frustrated with me for proposing such an argument. What would it say if a sovereign entity—the sovereign Government—signed an agreement then Parliament used a mechanism to delay the implementing legislation indefinitely? That would massively undermine the sovereignty of the Government that had signed an international agreement—yet that is the Government’s position in the Written Ministerial Statement; I quoted from it. It is not a fit-for-purpose mechanism; it is not an appropriate way of considering how we approve trade agreements.
Secondly, I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. These procedures are not very good; I would love him to have a right of reply to the Minister too. I will not endeavour to speak for him, nor would he want me to, but the noble Lord’s question—with regard to the amendment—about the ability of Parliament to make a decision before the signature is deliberate. In trade agreements, we know that there is a finalisation process and then, often, an initialling process. The initialled text will then usually go to the Parliament before there is full signature by the sovereign country. It is no accident that, at that stage, in Japan, which went through the process on 24 November, the law then authorised the Japanese Government to put their formal signature on the agreement. If there are problems, the time to highlight them is not as we have it—after the event, where a treaty has basically been made—after which we have the power only to delay the implementation. The right time is at the time of signing. This allows a judgment to be made to avoid problems down the line if there is still a great deal of unease with the agreement that has been signed.
This brings me to my last point. I am glad that the Minister referenced the next group. One of the points that he was at pains to make—indeed the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made a slight reference to this—concerned whether we are now putting a great deal of restriction on this power. As I mentioned before, the prerogative power has not been set in stone over the years, nor have the restrictions on any British Government over how they conduct or conclude negotiations. No British Government would go into any negotiations that would breach human rights agreements—the ECHR, for example. There are international obligations that we are bound to accept. We are a sovereign Parliament and the prerogative power, as the Minister would suggest, should be completely unfettered. Well, there is quite a high level of fettering about that.
We saw this in the European negotiations, both with the Theresa May Government and the Boris Johnson Government. Both published draft texts which they said they would stick to, or would ask the House of Commons to resolve on negotiation objectives for that. This is not, therefore, an unusual set of practices.
When it comes to restrictions—this is a point made both by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley—the question is whether the elements of my amendment that put requirements on the Government both to consult Parliament and to present reports are, in effect, a restriction on the use of that prerogative power. If that is the case, then both should be opposing government Amendment 34 in the next group, because that amendment sets the criteria on a report from the Trade and Agriculture Commission to satisfy Section 42 of the Agriculture Act 2020 that just passed. I remind noble Lords that Section 42 placed a condition on Governments, before a treaty could be laid under the CRaG Act, that they make a statement of complying with domestic standards. That was a government amendment in a government Act that is now being amended for the Trade and Agriculture Commission. If that is not a restriction on the ability of Parliament to lay proposals, then I do not know what is.
I hope the Minister knows that I respect him and listen to him. However, I do not believe that he sufficiently addressed the wide concerns from across the House, including the main one, which is the necessity of bringing the processes up to date. Yes, it is the case that we are negotiating for the first time in 50 years. This is our opportunity as a House to say to the Government how we believe we should frame the next 50 years of negotiating these—as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, said—complex and deep agreements. On that basis, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 7. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division should make that clear in the debate.
7: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Trade and Agriculture Commission
(1) A body corporate called the Trade and Agriculture Commission (“TAC”) is established.(2) The TAC must establish criteria for maintaining standards equivalent to standards applied within the United Kingdom at the time of import for goods imported under a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and any other state.(3) When the Secretary of State is undertaking negotiations for an international trade agreement on behalf of the United Kingdom with another state, the Secretary of State must consider any advice given by the TAC for the purposes of ensuring that the international trade agreement does not reduce or compromise standards.(4) A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 that contains provisions relating to the importation of goods into the United Kingdom unless Conditions A, B and C have been met.(5) Condition A is that the TAC has prepared a report assessing the extent to which the international trade agreement is likely to reduce the ability of the United Kingdom to maintain standards.(6) Condition B is that a Minister of the Crown has laid the report before Parliament.(7) Condition C is that each House of Parliament has agreed a motion, moved in accordance with subsection (8) by a Minister of the Crown, that the international trade agreement does not diminish standards within the meaning of this section.(8) So far as practicable, a Minister of the Crown must make arrangements for the motion mentioned in subsection (7) to be debated and voted on by each House of Parliament within a period of 42 days beginning with the day on which the report was laid under subsection (6).(9) In this section, “standards” means standards relating to—(a) animal welfare, (b) protection of the environment,(c) food safety, hygiene and traceability,(d) plant health, and(e) employment and human rights.(10) Schedule (The Trade and Agriculture Commission) makes further provision about the TAC.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 7 I will speak also to Amendment 44 and to the government amendments in this group. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister, my noble friend Lord Grimstone, for reaching out to those of us with an interest in this group of amendments with the meeting that was held between Committee stage and today, and for coming forward with the government amendments in his name.
At that meeting, there were a number of potential deficiencies in the anticipated amendments to the Trade Bill, as outlined by my noble friend Lord Grimstone, that we now have before us today. In particular, a number of us expressed concern about the absence of labour and human rights standards being upheld—as was contained in the original Fairhead amendment, now superseded by Amendment 6. We also expressed concern about the fact that the independence of the Trade and Agriculture Commission still seemed to be in doubt as, at the time, there was no reference to resources, staffing, offices, et cetera, and new appointments would need to be made, as the current members of the Trade and Agriculture Commission were initially appointed for a period of six months and are unpaid, as I understand it. We were also concerned about the extent to which Parliament would have a role in scrutinising these appointments and what form that scrutiny would take. There was also, again, a general lack of understanding about the exact form of scrutiny, and about the timing of the report from the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and further reports of individual trade deals as negotiated, that Parliament would receive and what the procedure was for looking at that.
Taking these points in turn, I will first go through my Amendments 7 and 44. As I say, I am grateful to my noble friend for coming forward with his amendments, which I believe will, for the most part, resolve many of my concerns. It was remiss of me not to thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, for their support for Amendments 7 and 44, and I take this opportunity to do so—I am most grateful to them.
The thrust of Amendment 7 is that the Trade and Agriculture Commission
“must establish criteria for maintaining standards equivalent to standards applied within the United Kingdom at the time of import for goods imported under a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and any other state … When the Secretary of State is undertaking negotiations for an international trade agreement … with another state, the Secretary of State must consider any advice given by the TAC for the purposes of ensuring that the international trade agreement does not reduce or compromise standards.”
In subsection (4) of the proposed new clause, we set out that:
“A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010”—
which we have called “CRAG” throughout these proceedings—
“that contains provisions relating to the importation of goods”
unless certain criteria have been met. We set out those criteria in subsections (5), (6) and (7): first,
“that the TAC has prepared a report assessing the extent to which the international trade agreement is likely to reduce the ability of the United Kingdom to maintain”
its own standards; secondly,
“that a Minister of the Crown has laid the report before Parliament”
“that each House of Parliament has agreed a motion, moved in accordance with subsection (8) … that the international trade agreement does not diminish standards within the meaning of”
subsection (8), where we state that that Motion should
“be debated and voted on by each House of Parliament within a period of 42 days beginning with the day on which the report was laid”.
This builds on the argument that we have had on the preceding Amendment 6 and subsequent amendments in this group. In my view, the period of 21 days is simply not enough time to take these arguments into consideration, and a period of up to 42 days—it need not take the whole of that—would be more appropriate.
We set out in subsection (9) what the standards mean. In addition to
“animal welfare … protection of the environment … food safety, hygiene and traceability … plant health”,
we add, in paragraph (e), what I know is of considerable importance to a number of noble Lords: “employment and human rights.” I do not believe that those appear anywhere else. I would be interested to know the extent to which my noble friend is prepared to look at employment and human rights, as they are generally understood to be terms and standards that are met. I think it was involved in previous negotiations and possibly also in the Fairhead amendment.
The main thrust of Amendment 44 goes to the point that I raised earlier about the independence of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. It is very similar to, but goes further than, that in the name of my noble friend Lord Grimstone: we suggest that we take the standard wording here, that:
“The TAC is not to be regarded … as the servant or agent of the Crown”
and that its property is also not to be considered as such, but add that:
“The TAC is to consist of … a Chair appointed by the Secretary of State … other non-executive members appointed by the Secretary of State … a chief executive appointed by the Chair with the approval of the Secretary of State or, if the first Chair has not been appointed, by the Secretary of State”.
At this stage I have a question for my noble friend the Minister about both Amendment 44 and his government amendment, which we shall come on to. Is it his understanding—certainly it would be our wish, and my fervent desire—that all these future appointments will follow the usual procedures where they have a pre-appointment hearing, particularly for an incoming chair of the Trade and Agriculture Commission? It may be the present chairman; indeed, it is my current hope that the present chairman of the commission will be reappointed but, as this will be a statutory body in future, under this group of amendments they would be subject to the pre-appointment hearings by the relevant Select Committee. I hope the Minister will confirm that that is his understanding as well.
We then set out the terms of appointment and tenure of members. I understand that we took this from previous such provisions, not least for the Trade Remedies Authority, which is also part and parcel of this Act. So we do not mean to be prescriptive; we are literally lifting, for shorthand purposes, these provisions that exist elsewhere and are tried, tested and understood. I hope the Minister will understand the basis on which we have drafted Amendments 7 and 44.
I turn to the amendments that the Minister has presented and will shortly move today. He will be pleased to hear that I like government Amendment 31 but, as I indicated earlier, there are a number of omissions from what is generally understood. The obvious one is employment and human rights, but I believe that food safety, hygiene and traceability are also very important. That has been covered in debates in this House and in the other place.
Government Amendment 34 seems to cover a lot of the ground that is in Amendments 7 and 44, as previously discussed. I ask for clarification on subsection (2), which inserts the words:
“In preparing the report, the Secretary of State must”,
and then goes on to say,
“except insofar as they relate to human life or health”.
There is a general understanding regarding this. I know that a previous amendment was carried in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, that failed to mention the original Article 36 provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which refer to public health and safety, although I forget the actual wording. I seek clarification that that is in fact what the Minister is referring to here.
Obviously, I am delighted that, under subsections (3) and (4), there will be a report of advice received, which I presume will be laid. What appears to be missing here is whether that report will be debated. Does the Minister understand that to be the case, or is it not the Government’s intention that it would be debated?
Government Amendment 35 shares many of the provisions that we have set out in Amendment 44, giving a degree of independence that is most welcome, and I thank the Minister for tabling that amendment. Again, if I may seek clarification, in the new clause inserted by Amendment 35, subsection (1) is fairly standard, but subsection (2), which mentions
“staff, accommodation, equipment or other facilities”,
omits any mention of resources, and I wonder if that is intentional. That omission has to be seen together with that in subsection (3), which says:
“The Secretary of State may pay, or make provision for paying, expenses to any member of the TAC in connection with the preparation of advice”.
Again, that does not actually say if there is a limit to the resources or the extent to which those provisions will extend. Clarification there would be most helpful.
Then we come to government Amendments 49 and 50. I welcome the fact that Amendment 49 puts the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing; that is something that many of us have held dear and which I have specifically requested during the passage of this Bill and indeed the Agriculture Act, so I thank the Minister warmly for that. I presume that government Amendment 50 is consequential in that regard, so those two amendments are absolutely welcome and I am most grateful to him.
Now I would like to pause and turn to government Amendment 36. It potentially effectively repeals the very existence of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, not just as set out in the provisions that we are debating in this group of amendments as part of the Trade Bill before us today but, as the Member’s explanatory statement says:
“This amendment would empower the Secretary of State to repeal provision relating to the Trade and Agriculture Commission if the Secretary of State’s duty to seek its advice under the Agriculture Act 2020 is repealed.”
I may be misinterpreting and misconstruing this amendment but, if I take it at face value, I slightly fear that it makes a mockery of the government amendments and others in this group in my name and those of other noble Lords. I press my noble friend: what on earth is the meaning of government Amendment 36? We are coalescing around the amendments which my noble friend has brought before the House today, but they are spoiled by the fact that, as I understand it, a statutory instrument could be brought forward. We know that that does not carry the same level of scrutiny as primary legislation. By the wave of a statutory instrument, the Trade and Agriculture Commission, its role, its function, and its advisory commitment, could be removed. What does Amendment 36 mean?
I look forward to receiving the Minister’s responses. For the moment, I beg to move Amendment 7.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for her introduction to this group of amendments on the Trade and Agriculture Commission. We very much see this as unfinished business from the Agriculture Bill, a not entirely satisfactory outcome to the issue of food standards. A proper recognition of the maintenance of the United Kingdom’s food standards should have been inserted in statute through that Bill rather than just having it as a manifesto commitment. However useful as a mechanism, the TAC cannot block a trade deal that may lead to a lowering of standards. We see this as not entirely good enough, yet the Government are now agreeing that they should, and could, have brought this body into existence at any time, and they are doing it more proactively. With the outcome of the statutory enshrinement of a TAC, together with added improvements through other amendments, we can understand and agree that the non-regression of standards could be said to have been delivered. However, anxieties exist about the Government’s full commitment to the Trade and Agriculture Commission. As a method to monitor food standards and trade deals it is very precarious, but there are many crossovers and references to other amendments and we concede that, in conjunction with those, this is a satisfactory way to proceed at the moment.
Amendment 7, paired with Amendment 44 which introduces a new schedule, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and other noble Lords, has many similarities to the discussions in debates during the passage of the Agriculture Bill. If the noble Baroness will forgive me, the amendment would pre-empt the Government’s amendments, to which I will give more detailed attention, as the Government have already signalled that they will agree to put the TAC on a statutory basis in this Bill. On that basis, I will examine their proposals. As the noble Baroness has outlined, the Government’s amendments are far from ideal, in many respects, compared to hers.
Amendment 31 sets up the TAC to be an expert body, with which we are in agreement, but it is rather silent on precise membership recommendations. Will the Minister outline, in his response to these amendments, how far this statutory body will reflect what already exists in its present, rather weak, form, especially regarding membership? During the passage of the Agriculture Bill, many noble Lords thought that that membership should have been extended to contain consumer interests as well as further food and nutrition interests.
Amendment 32 mirrors further discussions on the Agriculture Bill in that full and precise considerations should be shared with the devolved Administrations. The Minister may be able to give fulsome answers to this in his response to the previous amendment on how the present TAC is set up. We would rather answer the question of membership and its extension though Amendment 33, in the name of my noble friend Lord Stevenson. This extends the possibility of trade commissions being set up for any other industries as may become apparent and necessary through other trade deals which the Government may wish to enter into. We do not necessarily see that the agriculture industry should be unique in having its own carve-out in appreciation of the effect on it of trade Bills. I would very much welcome the Minister’s response to that. There could well be opportunities and circumstances in future trade deals where there may be a severe imbalance in their outcome on different industries, with one industry feeling more imperilled than another by the measures brought about by a future trade Bill. We would not wish a balance of benefits for one industry to played against the detriment of another’s sacrifice.
I turn to further specifics in the Government’s proposals. Our concerns begin to mount with Amendment 34, on the commission’s advisory functions. This proposes an immediate restriction to the process, brought in by amendments to the Agriculture Bill, regarding the functions of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. We find it rather alarming that, when the Agriculture Minister was answering for the whole Government during the passage of the Agriculture Bill, he was very much alive to the aspect of human health, and the implication for that of food, yet in another Bill, barely a month later, a Minister from another department wishes to contradict that.
However, I am glad to see that, through those discussions, Amendment 34 now allows the Trade and Agriculture Commission to report directly to Parliament, independent of the process which the Government had previously been reluctant to stray from, by making the TAC report only through the Trade Committees of the Commons and your Lordships’ House. This gives better recognition to its work and the importance that the greatest percentage of the UK’s population places on food standards being maintained, as well as on plant health, the environment and animal welfare.
We also have severe reservations about the Government’s Amendment 36, which repeals the advisory body barely three years after its enactment. That amendment proposes that the TAC’s provision, set up in primary statute, could then be repealed or severely altered by secondary statutory order only, as soon as its third anniversary. This would diminish the TAC and its prime process—being part of the parliamentary scrutiny of Trade Bills—which we thought the Government had agreed. It hardly allows the Trade and Agriculture Commission to consider all the new major trade deals which the Government may wish to enact, in addition to the rollover deals that the UK is inheriting through its previous membership of the EU. It is still unknown when, and at what speed, new international trade agreements with America and Australia could come through. Indeed, the Government could time those negotiations to come to fruition exactly as they were disbanding the TAC. That would be a tremendous mistake.
Having proposed the creation of the TAC on a statutory basis, it should now be allowed to gain experience and expertise, and to be taken seriously in that role. It should be able to undertake further research and investigations into agricultural and trade matters in addition to providing momentary comments on each trade deal that the Government may wish it to advise on. Will the Minister outline how the Government intend the TAC to function in this regard?
We have resisted further amendments to the Government’s clauses, especially to the period of only three years before it could be disbanded, and reserve the option of bringing further amendments, following any replies that the Minister may provide, at Third Reading. It is crucial, as the UK begins to undertake its own trade policy, for these matters to be dealt with appropriately and robustly for many years to come.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I will speak briefly to Amendment 32.
There was a great deal of discussion during the passage of the Agriculture Bill on the importance of the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. All who took part will be relieved that the Government have decided to put the TAC on a formal footing, as set out in government Amendment 31. The NFU lobbied heavily for this, was disappointed that the measure was not included in the Agriculture Bill but, like others, is pleased to see it added to the Trade Bill.
I have added my name to Amendment 32, from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, as it is essential that the devolved Administrations have the opportunity to comment on proposed members of the TAC. It is also vital that those who have the expertise to ensure that the TAC makes informed decisions have a seat on the commission. While the list of areas of expertise in government Amendment 31 does not include the bodies that will provide that expertise, it is implicit that they will represent the views of animal and plant safety experts and the interests of the farming community.
In addition to these very welcome changes, the devolved Administrations must have the opportunity to comment. If they cannot respond within the timeframe given—one month—the Secretary of State may proceed with appointments. This is a reasonable timeframe and should not hold up appointments to, and operation of, the TAC.
I and some of my colleagues are engaged in reviewing a number of statutory instruments from Defra, to ensure that legislation operates effectively after 1 January 2021. It is clear from this legislation that there are very differing views and methods of operating among the devolved Administrations, not least those affected by the Northern Ireland protocol. There is little point in appointing people to the TAC if none of them has the knowledge or ability to represent the views of the devolved Administrations, especially when there are many instances of legislation on animal and crop farming differing between them. This is an important amendment that I hope the Minister will agree to.
Lastly, I share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, about government Amendment 36, on repealing the Trade and Agriculture Commission. This is extremely worrying and undermines all previous discussions about the commission, both in this Bill and in the Agriculture Bill, and I look forward to reassurance on this point from the Minister.
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I will speak to Amendments 7 and 44, and in doing so I welcome government Amendments 31 and 34 in this group. I and other co-signatories have been urging the Government to move in this direction for a considerable time, and I am very pleased to see this commitment to the establishment of a permanent Trade and Agriculture Commission.
Like previous speakers, I find Amendment 36 rather concerning. Can the Minister explain why it is included? It rather casts a large shadow over the Government’s intentions in this area, and I look forward to hearing what the rationale is for this clause.
Leaving aside Amendment 36, the Government’s new clauses are a tentative step forward in establishing the Trade and Agriculture Commission. It is, however, only a first step. What needs to follow is for the commission to establish itself as a credible body in terms of its membership, its leadership credentials and the impartiality and quality of its advice. I hope that the Minister does not mind me commenting that, thus far, too many individuals appointed to trade positions by the Department for International Trade are as likely to be chums and cronies of Ministers, or former Conservative politicians looking for a cosy berth, as to be independent and well-respected specialists on trade and agricultural issues.
This new body will only be successful to the extent that those appointed to it have, between them, a wide range of expertise and are well regarded in their fields for fully understanding the relevant issues in a non-partisan way. I agree, therefore, with the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, that the appointment of commission members should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and approval.
There will be many important roles for this new commission. One will clearly be to give advice on the best way to uphold existing British food and animal welfare standards and to look at the protection of environmental and plant health. Another, I have no doubt, will be to act as an important champion of British agriculture, which would be very welcome. If it is possible for the commission to extend its scope to look at human rights and employment issues, I would welcome that.
Another role for the commission would be to consider and report on the impact of pending trade deals, which are likely to contain provisions put forward by trade competitors looking to access British markets and to undercut British product and food standards. One of the first agreements that members of this commission will need to consider carefully is the CPTPP, to which the Government have already announced they wish to accede. That would raise significant issues about food and agriculture standards, and about regulations, which would differ considerably from those by which farmers, manufacturers and traders are currently bound.
That is why it is so important that the members of this commission are highly respected and well-regarded experts in their fields: their advice could impact heavily on the future livelihoods and businesses of large numbers of people in many sectors of our economy. Their reports on potential trade deals should be of value not just to the Minister but to Parliament too, in the form, as we have heard, of committees in the Lords and Commons whose duties it is to scrutinise deals. The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, mentioned this, I think, in an earlier debate.
There is a wider role, that urgently needs to be played, to which I hope that members of this new commission might be able to contribute significantly, namely to outline to the British public what the Government’s trade strategy is. Is it to do deals with any willing partner? Are there preferred options, and if so on what basis are they preferred? Why do we seek to join CPTPP, with its distinct set of trade regulations, while wanting to have nothing to do with European regulations? Are we happy to conclude a trade deal with China? I got no answer to that question when I raised it some weeks ago.
In addition to articulating a trade strategy, perhaps this commission could also help to clarify which sections of British commerce and agriculture we are seeking to prioritise in trade deals. Which sectors will be deemed less important? What will be the core principles of British trade policy? They are, at present, difficult to discern. It seems that safeguarding jobs in fishing—relatively few though they are—is at the moment considered more important than jobs in the automobile or chemicals industry or in agriculture. Those selling fish to Europe seem to be prioritised above those selling lamb to Europe. Does this make commercial and economic sense? These are the sort of issues and choices our new commission members will need to look at as a matter of urgency. After all, a new start requires a clear strategy that we can all get behind and support. Mobilising energies and support on a wide basis behind our trade strategies will be crucial to success in this area.
I welcome most of the Government’s amendments in this group as far as they go, but I strongly hope that the new Trade and Agriculture Commission will be able to help in articulating a set of coherent trade and agricultural priorities that we in Parliament, and the wider public, will be happy to support.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and to hear not only her very cogent arguments but also her questions. I do hope the Minister will answer them, particularly on trade with China.
I support Amendments 7 and 44 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. It is obvious immediately, from the way she laid things out at the very beginning, that the Government have done a little but not enough. It is a pleasure for me to speak in this group and have a tiny part in the Government’s compromise amendments. Although they are welcome, they just do not do the job. Why do they not guarantee the commission its independence? The weakness is exposed when compared with the non-government amendments in this group. While I would like to call a win a win, I do not think we really have a win here. I am worried that this welcome but small compromise will actually create nothing more than a talking shop, which can simply be ignored by the Government.
The Government have put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing, with Amendments 49 and 50, given it a degree of permanency and have even seemed to incorporate what we were pushing for in that it should have its own staff and facilities, but then government Amendment 36 throws all that out. A Secretary of State can ditch the whole thing with a statutory instrument. How is that sticking to a promise about making this a body that can properly do the job?
I hope that the Minister will think again before Third Reading, so that we do not have to compromise endlessly with a body that is too feeble and inconsequential to do the job.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I am a signatory to Amendments 7 and 44, and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for her very accurate, extensive and comprehensive exposition of those amendments, as well as her critique of the government amendments in this group. While we welcome the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a permanent basis in statute, there are certain distances yet to come. Obviously, like other noble Lords, I question the content, the purpose and remit of Amendment 36, which seems to nullify the impact of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. Like the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Henig and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I ask the Minister to outline the purpose and remit to see whether he can provide us with any assurances that it is not simply there to negative what is already in existence by way of secondary legislation or in a statutory instrument.
Amendment 7 provides 42 days for parliamentary scrutiny, which is better because it allows adequate time for that scrutiny to take place. A new schedule outlined in Amendment 44 provides for a Trade and Agriculture Commission with greater independence to link in with the whole agricultural area. We should always remember that those involved in the farming industry need this independent body to advise on trade matters, agricultural and food standards, and environmental standards. Like other noble Lords, I would like to see references, and hope the Minister could provide us with some detail about the need for food safety, as well as for employment and human rights. Those are equally important requirements.
In submissions that we have received over the last few days, Greener UK has lobbied along with the farming organisations for the Trade and Agriculture Commission. Given that the UK’s food standards are high on the negotiating priorities of many of our prospective trading partners, stakeholder input and scrutiny of trade deals in relation to agri-food standards, it is important that the UK delivers the public’s expectation to maintain high standards. It has been recognised that the Government have taken a step in the right direction by putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing through the various government amendments, but again I question Amendment 36. I thank the Minister for the meeting he had, on a cross-party basis, with noble Lords on the various issues to do with the Trade and Agriculture Commission, but I believe that the Government could go a little further. Perhaps the Minister could specify if there are any additional details to be provided at Third Reading. The new schedule proposed in our Amendment 44 underpins the need for the independence of the TAC.
Will the Minister spell out how the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be required to produce an annual report with recommendations on how to improve food import standards and how to incorporate changes in domestic standards into existing and future trade deals? How will the Secretary of State be required to take all these recommendations into account when setting trade negotiating objectives, and how will the Government issue a response to the recommendations? Will the Minister provide some assurances in that regard and will he be bringing something forward at Third Reading?
We also note that the TAC’s scope in the government amendment is limited to agricultural goods and does not address wider scrutiny of regulations and standards pertaining to other goods and services that may be impacted by trade deals, such as chemicals, which the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, makes provision for. This, from memory, has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, in his submission.
I am very happy to support Amendments 7 and 44. I am pleased that the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be put on a permanent basis, but I plead with the Government not to negative the good work by having Amendment 36, and ask the Minister not to press that.
My Lords, I wish to speak primarily on Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and other noble Lords. I also support Amendment 32 on the need for consent from devolved Ministers. In my Second Reading speech on the Agriculture Bill, I welcomed the setting up of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, particularly the appointment of the president of the Farmers’ Union of Wales as a member. I played a small part in the founding of the union 65 years ago—rather a long time.
I received an excellent briefing note from the NFU, and I hope that the Minister will give the assurances that it seeks in that note. The establishment of the commission as a statutory board is important and gives it a degree of permanence, and I welcome the thrust of the government amendments. The NFU has raised the issue of the range of necessary expertise required of its members. It is the word “expertise” on which we need further reassurance. I emphasise the obvious point that agricultural expertise is a vital requirement. I need not say anything further on that.
It also raises the issue of ensuring that devolved interests are properly catered for. I hope that the Government will accept Amendment 32. It was around 1 March 1977 when agricultural responsibility in Wales was transferred from the Government, of which I was a Member, to the Secretary of State for Wales. I tried to anticipate how experience in handling agricultural matters outside Whitehall would be important for a future devolved Government in Wales. Regrettably, this important step had to wait until 1999, but this is one example of the building bricks that were necessary to be transferred and that were so important to the future devolved Administration—hence it is vital that they are properly consulted.
When I was the Welsh Secretary, I also ensured that, when Brussels was concerned with Welsh interests, I attended with the Whitehall Minister of Agriculture. I would be particularly pleased to hear more about the scope of work intended for the commission. This should be spelled out before we leave this important issue.
Lastly, I believe that reassurance is needed about the intention of the Government to review the TAC every three years. It is vital to have wide consultations with relevant interests at this stage. This is a very important body. I welcome it and, in particular, its extended remit and degree of permanence. It will be there to give the views of agriculture to the Government of the day. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I had very much hoped to give three loud cheers to the Government for putting down this amendment but, at the moment, my noble friend has one and a half cheers. But I am extremely grateful to the Government for at least putting down this amendment.
A number of points have been raised, and the point which struck home was that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, who said that public expectation is high for the TAC. She is absolutely right. I fear that the TAC, as proposed in the amendments before us, will turn out to be a peely-wally TAC. As a result, it will give the Minister every opportunity to use the proposed new clause in Amendment 36 to repeal it by statutory instrument. That will lead to a huge loss of public confidence in the Government and in agriculture, which has been a matter of so much debate.
We brought the Government to this state, kicking and screaming, through the hard work on the Agriculture Bill. Could my noble friend tell me what membership he envisages for this commission? The point has been made that it is a bit vague, but unless the commission has experts and access to experts, it will not be able to report to the high standard that we hoped and expected of it. Can the commission do work other than looking at trade deals once they have been negotiated? Will there be a lull? If a negotiation is going on, the commission can look at it, and that might bring up other bits of work that it ought to do for future trade deals. But the Government could turn around and say to the commission that because there is no trade deal under negotiation, sorry, your job is finished. Could my noble friend be more specific on the workload he expects of the TAC?
The next point I want to raise was also raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh when she introduced Amendment 7. It is on the wording of the proposed new subsection (2)(4A)(a) in Amendment 34, which refers to “human life or health”. What happens around food security that affects people’s health? Will it be covered by the work of the commission? When we were discussing the Agriculture Bill, the quality of food that would be produced by and imported to this country was a huge concern. It affects human health and, if the TAC is not allowed to look at human health, will aspects of that be omitted?
My last point concerns the shortness of the TAC’s life. Is my noble friend convinced that he will get the right quality of people to serve on it, given that it is an intermittent body, with every likelihood that a Minister could wake up one morning and lay a statutory instrument for its demise? Before a Government decision is made and such a statutory instrument is laid, will my noble friend confirm that he will consult all relevant interested parties and publish their advice? If that is not the case, I fear that the TAC will not produce the quality of reports that we want and will not continue in existence for as long as many noble Lords have anticipated. I hope that my noble friend can change my one and a half cheers into three cheers.
My Lords, as always, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I greatly agree with what he said and want to amplify one of his points. I also support Amendment 7, but do not think that it is finished business yet.
When the Agriculture Bill passed through Parliament, many noble Lords advocated amendments about the UK’s food standards: that they should be written into law to protect us from lower food standards in the future. This was backed massively by the public, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and many other noble Lords have said. Some 2.6 million people signed a number of related petitions, and 260,000 people took the trouble to write to their MP because they were concerned about this. The Government have instead opted to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on to a statutory footing, extending its lifespan and requiring it to look after these important matters. Is this enough? I think not.
We know that trade deals can put huge pressure on food standards and lead to the import of food produced to lower—or indeed higher—standards. Evidence shows that a number of prospective future trading partners want the UK to lower its food and animal welfare standards and to allow the import of currently banned products, including the well-known examples of chlorine chicken and hormone beef as well as others such as products containing residue of pesticides.
The TAC was formed by the Government in response to consumer and farming concerns. Its main aim is to consider the development of the Government’s trade policy, to reflect consumer and developing world interests and to consider how we engage with the WTO on animal welfare. However, as it stands, it will relate only ever to broad farming, food, environmental and animal welfare concerns. Food safety is considered, but not public health.
However, we now have it on a statutory footing and have expanded proposals for membership to include experts on trade, animal and plant health, and animal welfare. This is welcome but not enough. The Government’s amendment categorically excludes the TAC from considering the impact of agri-food trade on human health. Its reference to what the TAC reports on states that, in preparing the report for Parliament, the Secretary of State for International Trade must
“request advice from the Trade and Agriculture Commission … except insofar as they relate to human life or health”.
If the TAC is limited to thinking about health very narrowly, within the confines of a sanitary or phytosanitary source, wider considerations such as impacts to diets, antimicrobial resistance or pesticide residues will be lost. If it is not the role of the TAC to consider this, who will consider it? We all know the long impact of bad diets—those heavy in sugar, fats and salts. We have seen this as Covid has torn through our communities this year. We legislate very well and effectively that food will not kill you today, but we have nothing on food that will kill you tomorrow or, more to the point, in your children’s tomorrows.
The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics published a report just last week showing how future trading partners for the UK are giving livestock antibiotics to make them grow faster, a practice which has rightly been illegal in the UK and across the EU since 2006. When I raised this in this House the other day, the Minister was emphatic that we have good antibiotic rulings. However, in 2022 the EU will ban the importation of meat and dairy produced in this way but the UK Government have not yet committed to this. This new report shows that, overall, farm antibiotic use per animal is about five times higher in the US and Canada compared with us, with use in United States cattle being about seven times higher. Antibiotic use per animal in Australian poultry is 16 times higher than ours. These are very serious facts.
Where is public health? Somewhere between the Agriculture Bill, the Trade Bill and the TAC. Why is it not in a leading role as we go forward in these crucial debates? I understand, although I might not agree, why the Government chose not to put public health right at the top of the Agriculture Bill as a public good. I know it is impossible to recompense people for growing food which has a monetary value, but I do not feel reassured about where this is going to be. I am also not reassured that it will be left in the hands of the Food Standards Agency, much as I admire it, because I do not understand its relationship to the Trade and Agriculture Commission. At the moment we do not have a public health expert on that body. This is slithering through the cracks; if we do not catch it now, in future it could have very serious consequences for us all.
My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. It is a great honour and privilege to follow my noble friend Lady Boycott, whose contributions are always thought-provoking and based on her immense knowledge of food and agriculture. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for her amendments and continuing commitment to the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s purpose, in the Agriculture Bill and this Bill.
I will speak to Amendments 31, 34, 35 and 36 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone of Boscobel. I very much welcome these amendments and congratulate the Government on introducing them into the Bill. The future of the Trade and Agriculture Commission was the subject, as has already been mentioned this afternoon, of much debate on the Agriculture Bill. The amendments to that Bill—Clause 42, which the Government finally introduced under pressure—complement the amendments we are considering this afternoon.
When I stated that I welcome these amendments, it is not just I who is delighted to see them but hundreds of stakeholder organisations, and, as my noble friend Lady Boycott mentioned, a significant proportion of the British public demonstrated how concerned they were about this issue. All were concerned about the possibility of imported food being allowed to enter the UK which was produced to lower production standards than our domestic standards—not that ours are perfect, but they are among the highest in the world.
To give a bit of background, I chaired the Meat and Livestock Commission during the 1990s, when we had one food scare after another—E. coli, salmonella and BSE, to name a few—and consumer confidence in our food was at an all-time low. The Food Standards Agency was established at the end of that decade. Since then, we have slowly but surely restored public confidence through hard work and considerable investment. It has been hard won. As an example of recent activity, again mentioned by my noble friend Lady Boycott, we have reduced our antibiotic usage in farm animals by almost 50% in the past five years—a significant achievement—and the farming and food industry is very committed to continuing on this vital journey of continually improving our standards.
The Trade and Agriculture Commission’s role is not in my view a protectionist measure to support UK agriculture. It is a measure to ensure UK consumers continue to enjoy food produced to high standards— including in animal welfare—that is safe and nutritious but also allows UK producers to compete on a level playing field not just in our home market but, hopefully, increasingly in export markets too. Importantly, it is also evidence of the Government’s ambition to influence global trading standards.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his willingness to discuss this amendment and these issues. I thank him for his time. I am interested in two elements of these amendments, both of which have been referred to in one way or another this afternoon, which I hope he will be able to address.
The first is the process of appointing members to the commission. I would appreciate an explanation of the qualities and expertise the Secretary of State will seek to identify in potential candidates, bearing in mind the complexity of the task and the technical knowledge that will be needed to be able to evaluate the terms of trade deals. For example, I would have thought that an understanding of the technical aspects of food production will be a necessary requirement. Having established the TAC, the Government need to ensure that the range of knowledge and expertise in it allows them to broaden its role in providing advice on other issues if required.
The second is a concern that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has already expressed very eloquently, and I now express it directly to the Minister. I refer to the exclusion of human life and health from the remit of the TAC—a matter also referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. There is a deep worry among many NGOs about this exclusion and the reasons for it. This concern relates not only to food safety and production standards but, importantly, to the nutritional standards of imported food. While we strive to address food-related diseases as a strategic priority in this country, as well as the impact of obesity on the nation’s health, excluding those things from the TAC’s remit seems odd, particularly as imported processed food products could be a serious contributor to, and a negative influence on, health.
I would also be very interested in hearing the Minister’s response to a number of queries about Amendment 36. It would be helpful if he could explain the reasons for the various issues that I have raised and, in particular, if he would reconsider the membership of the TAC as far as human life and health are concerned. I thank the Minister once again for his openness.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. It is clear that the government amendments the Minister is bringing forward today have had a long gestation period—over many years—and the noble Lord, Lord Curry, played a significant role in developing the higher standards which we now take for granted in many respects but which we cannot take for granted in our trading relationships. We still need the existing level of protection.
I commend noble Lords who have shown great endurance and persistence and, ultimately, a degree of success in their work. Among them, I include very much my noble friend Lady Bakewell. Like her, I feel that, having sat for many hours on the trade Bills and the Agriculture Bill, it is nice to see, finally, the Government accepting and then acting on a case that has been made powerfully. In that regard, I welcome the way in which the Minister brought forward the amendments and his openness in discussing them.
He will be aware of the response that I and my noble friend gave, which is reflected in our amendment. My noble friend outlined that in clear terms, and I will simply refer to it before I close. However, before doing so, I want to say that I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, about the motives behind the Government putting this advisory body, but not others, on a statutory footing. We know that that is probably because of the strong campaigning that took place, and that is to the credit of the campaigners, who pressed hard for it. However, the Government have been slightly coy about saying why the agriculture advisory group will be put on a statutory footing but not the trade advisory groups that cover key sectors of the British economy: agri-food; automotive, aerospace and marine; British manufactured and consumer goods, telecoms and technology; chemicals; life sciences; the creative industries; investment; transport services; professional advisory services; and financial services. All those areas are covered by trade advisory groups. What interaction will there be when the trade agreement is being prepared but before it is laid before Parliament under the CRaG process? Why, uniquely, does a report on the elements in Section 42 of the Agriculture Act 2020 have to be received from the Trade and Agriculture Commission but not from the other trade advisory groups?
If the intention behind this is, as the Minister will surely say, to enhance scrutiny, how will we know the views of the trade advisory groups for those other sectors of the economy at exactly the same time as the report from the Trade and Agriculture Commission is presented to Parliament? Perhaps the Minister could make that clear. The situation could be resolved quite straightforwardly: he could state at the Dispatch Box that the Government intend to make sure that the other trade advisory groups are able to submit, and we are able to look at, their views on the impact assessments of an agreement.
I hope that the amendment eloquently outlined by my noble friend does not fall foul of the castigatory remarks from the Minister that my amendment received on the last occasion. In this amendment, I have simply used the Government’s wording. I quite liked the wording of their amendment to the internal market Bill—consulting the devolved authorities on appointments to the office of the internal market. In fact, I liked it so much that I thought it should be used in this Bill too. If the Government appoint members of an advisory body for internal United Kingdom trade and consult the devolved authorities, they should also consult the devolved Administrations when appointing members of an external trade advisory body. That would be quite straightforward, and for the Minister to accept that quickly when he winds up at the Dispatch Box would not create any great problems.
My wider question on the period of three years for the life of the Trade and Agriculture Commission is a good one to ask, as that period slightly jars with the five-year period in this Bill for the regulation-making powers. We have the slightly odd situation whereby, under the regulation-making powers in this legislation, the Government have five years but the Trade and Agriculture Commission has only three. Why there is that disjoint, I simply do not know. It would make sense if, at the very least, the lifetime of the regulation-making powers was the same as that of the Trade and Agriculture Commission.
The amendments on consultation should be straightforward. I am not being facetious but I hope the Minister can provide reassurance on the Government’s intention to consult before the appointments are made. I am not sure whether the amendment in my name and that of my noble friend will allow the noble Earl to have two or two and a half cheers. I think that they enhance this. I am grateful to him for allowing me to explain to my noble friend Lord Fox what peely-wally means. I hope that, with these amendments, the government amendments will be less peely-wally and that maybe there will be an improvement.
My Lords, this group consists of government amendments, together with amendments from my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and Lord Purvis of Tweed. I will try to set a good example by keeping my comments tight and to the point, and I will of course write to noble Lords whose comments I do not do justice to in my response. I am convinced that one thing I have learned in taking this Bill through your Lordships’ House is that it is not possible to please all the people all the time in relation to the contents of the Bill.
I turn, first, to the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh. Although their purpose and intent are similar to those underpinning the government amendments before your Lordships—to ensure that high standards of imports into the UK are maintained—my noble friend’s amendments go further. They would create a body responsible for setting criteria for assessing whether provisions in trade agreements on UK imports meet or exceed domestic standards on a very wide range of issues. This would, as a result, set restrictions on what goods could be imported under trade agreements.
It is not appropriate for the UK to impose our standards on other countries and prohibit imports of goods that do not meet our standards where there is no basis to do so. Not only could doing so put us in breach of our WTO obligations but, as we spoke about in Committee on a similar amendment, such action has the potential to harm the economies of developing countries and some of the poorest people in society, and to increase protectionism.
The amendment is unnecessary as the standards that it seeks to protect are already enshrined in domestic statute and the Government will uphold them. Any changes to existing standards would, of course, require new legislation to be scrutinised by Parliament. I believe that the Government have taken decisive action to uphold our commitments to high standards. Extending the remit of the TAC to areas such as human rights would run the risk of duplicating the functions of trusted bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I am sure that that is not something my noble friend would wish.
Similarly, my noble friend’s amendments apply to all trade agreements, including continuity agreements. Instead, the TAC should focus on only new free trade agreements and agreements signed with continuity partners from 2023 onwards. The UK’s continuity FTAs, as I have said previously, roll over existing EU arrangements that we now wish to hold on a bilateral basis. Those agreements were scrutinised under EU scrutiny procedures and simply replicate existing EU trade agreements, with necessary adjustments to reflect the UK context.
The Government have listened carefully to the concerns of the House with regard to independent scrutiny of FTAs. I am very pleased to bring forward Amendments 31, 34, 35, 36, 49 and 50, which will put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing. This step is integral to boost scrutiny of our new free trade agreements as we move on from continuity.
The current TAC had a different function. It was established as an independent advisory board in July 2020 to advise and inform the Government on their future trade policy. It aims to ensure that animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined, that consumer and developing country interests are represented and that new export opportunities are secured for producers in all parts of the UK. The amendments today will not impact the role of the current TAC, which will still produce a report by February 2021. I put on record that the Government are thankful for the commitment, time, investment and hard work that current TAC members and representatives of its working groups have put in, and we commend the success it has had to date. We believe that the action we are now taking to put the TAC on to a statutory footing will be an important development in boosting the scrutiny of the Government’s trade policy.
Amendment 34 places the Secretary of State under a duty to seek advice from the TAC on matters set out in Section 42 of the Agriculture Act 2020, excluding human life and health—I know that this point is of concern to a number of noble Lords; I will come back to it in a moment—in preparing a report to Parliament to accompany relevant free trade agreements laid under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act procedures. I particularly reassure the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that the omission of human health from the remit of the TAC does not in any way diminish the importance that we will attach to it. It is just that, when we looked at the composition of the TAC and its range of duties, it seemed that expert advice relevant to human life and health would best be sourced separately from other, more expert bodies in that field. The report under the Agriculture Act will include both advice that comes from the TAC and advice that comes from other relevant bodies in relation to human life and health. The duty will be exercised, but not through the TAC.
Section 42 of the Agriculture Act places a duty on the Secretary of State to report on whether the measures in certain future FTAs applicable to trade in agricultural products are consistent with maintaining UK domestic statutory protections for human, animal or plant life or health, animal welfare and the environment. The TAC advice will inform that report. It will be laid separately before Parliament as an independent report, but it will not be the totality of the report under the Act.
The role of the statutory TAC will therefore represent an evolution of the current TAC. The statutory TAC’s purpose—to provide advice under Section 42 of the Agriculture Act—is set out in Amendment 31, and the TAC advice will ensure independent expert scrutiny of new free trade agreements. The request for advice by the Secretary of State and any guidelines will be published, and advice supplied by the TAC will be laid before Parliament. That is the role of the TAC. It is not a standing body producing advisory reports, as one might have deduced from the existing TAC; it is an independent expert body scrutinising new free trade agreements as and when they come along.
Amendment 31 creates a power for the Secretary of State to appoint members and, of course, a duty to have regard to the desirability of appointing members with expertise specific to the role of the TAC. The Government will work to ascertain the range of skills and knowledge required for the commission, noting that additional skills and expertise might be required and that the list in the amendment is not, of course, exclusive. The TAC must have those skills but the Secretary of State is free to decide that it might need additional skills other than those on the list.
I can absolutely affirm to your Lordships that the Secretary of State will make appointments in line with all the usual public law principles applicable to all ministerial decision-making and within the confines of the new statutory provisions. These will be direct appointments and will follow established protocols, demonstrating the department’s commitment to a robust process and eliminating any conflicts of interest. The steps required as part of this process will be reflected in the TAC’s terms of reference.
As a non-incorporated expert committee—I might just dwell on those words for a moment—the commission will provide the Government with independent external advice to deliver additional scrutiny of free trade agreements. It will comprise technical experts who can analyse complex treaty text and provide robust and balanced advice to Parliaments. Members of the TAC will be chosen to have knowledge of standards across the whole of the UK. To my noble friend Lady McIntosh, I say that what we are establishing is not a body with a CEO that produces annual reports; it is a group of experts who have a specified task to do, which is put in front of them every time a new FTA comes down the tracks.
Amendment 34 will require the TAC to be reviewed every three years. Of course, I can see from this debate that there is perhaps a misunderstanding among noble Lords about what exactly that means. In my experience, it is good practice for these bodies to be reviewed after a period of time, and three years is not an uncommon period. However, it in no way means that the body will be wound up after that time, because the TAC must stay in place unless the Government bring forward secondary legislation via the affirmative procedure to repeal the TAC’s provisions. There is a review every three years, but only if that review comes forward with recommendations that both Houses of Parliament accept can the TAC be discontinued.
I want completely to reassure noble Lords about the consequences of Amendment 36, which, I fear, has been misunderstood by Members. Amendment 36 is entirely dependent on Amendment 34. Only if the Amendment 34 process every three years resulted in a decision by Parliament that the TAC should be wound up would the provisions of Amendment 36 come into effect to pass the necessary statutory instruments to repeal the TAC. Amendment 36 does not stand alone so it could not be used for the Secretary of State to wind up the TAC on a whim; that would be a ludicrous proposition. I apologise if noble Lords have found the drafting of the amendment confusing in that respect, but I can give them complete reassurance on that matter.
I believe that the role of the statutory TAC complements other measures that the Government have taken to further enhance scrutiny of new FTAs and ensure that the views of the agricultural sector are taken into account during the negotiations process. Indeed, this will not be the only independent scrutiny that our new free trade agreement will receive: the International Trade Committee in the other place and our own IAC will also, of course, provide critical scrutiny and advice on our negotiated deals, just as this took place with the Japan agreement. I reassure noble Lords that the Government remain committed to listening to and engaging with consumers, farmers and industry in negotiating our free trade agreements, and we value the input that they provide in this process.
It is important to remember that our expert trade and advisory groups, representing businesses, consumers and civil society, already provide advice during free trade agreement negotiations—this is an essential difference from the TAC—and we will not seek to duplicate that important work. In particular, there is a dedicated agri-food trade advisory group, in which the agri-foods sector is represented; it does an excellent job of representing that sector.
I believe that these amendments will help the UK safeguard our current standards of agricultural products, put British farming at the heart of our trade policy and ensure that our agricultural sector is among the most competitive and innovative in the world. I hope that noble Lords will be able to support the amendments brought forward by the Government.
On the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, as I have already mentioned, the TAC will be an expert committee; members will be independent experts, appointed as individuals, not as representatives of academia, business or other organisations for which many of them may work. As I said before, the Secretary of State will make appointments in line with established protocols, following the usual public law principles applicable to all ministerial decision-making. The statutory TAC will represent an evolution of the current TAC to reflect its purpose as set out in Amendment 33. Of course, the membership will be considered accordingly. We are committed to ensuring that only expertise will drive the appointment of new members. It is critical for the success of the TAC that the advice is independent and underpinned by the expertise listed in the amendment.
As I have said before, the central purpose of the TAC is to improve scrutiny of FTAs prior to their ratification. Therefore, as I said earlier, it is related to a reserved matter: the ratification of free trade agreements. As such, the TAC amendment does not engage the legislative consent process under the Sewel convention. While we acknowledge, of course, that the work of the TAC will touch on the devolved matter of agriculture, this does not alter the fact that its function relates to a reserved matter.
However, the UK Government recognise that, as agriculture is a devolved matter, the devolved Administrations, of course, have a legitimate interest in the TAC’s work. Therefore, the Minister of State for Trade Policy has written to them, seeking their views on the statutory TAC, and he will discuss it with them at the ministerial forum for trade later this week. I hope that noble Lords understand that the commitments that we have made, when pulled together, create a further commitment to produce a report on standards in FTAs in relation to specific concerns, as outlined in Section 42 of the Agriculture Act. Through our amendment, we are proposing to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing—I sense that noble Lords welcome this—and to provide advice in relation to this. I therefore ask my noble friend to withdraw Amendment 7.
I thank the Minister for his extensive explanations behind his amendments, although, obviously, I will look carefully at Hansard later, and we may further follow up aspects of this. I would like to draw out from him one further explanation. I listened carefully to his explanations, and I concede that due process would take place before Amendment 36 was invoked and after Amendment 34 had been implemented. But what could be the circumstances in which a review would give rise to an abandonment of the TAC process in future trade assessments?
I thank the noble Lord for that question. Pragmatically, the most likely circumstance would be if a bigger and better idea came along. For a Trade Minister to come to this House or the other place and say they were winding up the TAC and nothing was being put in its place would lead to a difficult debate. This is, perhaps, part of the whole process. We are new to trade agreements, the way we are handling them is evolving, and matters may evolve with that.
I stress again that there is nothing Machiavellian about the three-year review point. It is certainly not Machiavellian to require both Houses to agree to any winding up of the TAC. Other noble Lords will be more expert than I am on this, but I would be surprised if either our House or the other place resolved to wind up the TAC unless something bigger and better was being put in its place.
My Lords, I am grateful to all who have spoken in this debate and in particular to the Minister for his response to the concerns that have been raised. His conclusion backs ours; nearly everybody who has spoken has spoken in favour of the permanency, beyond an initial three or six years, of the TAC. He himself just accepted that in his last few words.
To come back to the basic points: we all agree it is excellent that the government amendments put the TAC on a statutory footing. In the words of my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that goes a little way but not far enough towards independence.
I am not sure I got an answer on which resources will be allocated. I realise it is not our place, in this House, to say that, but we did not get an answer on it. On the question of permanence, I will revert to that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, identified a gap in all the amendments—government amendments and Amendments 7 and 44—in a lack of understanding about what government strategy for trade will be. I agree with her on that. Why would we want to tie ourselves to all these commitments, which, inevitably, a CPTPP free trade agreement would involve, when we are tying ourselves up in knots regarding those with the EU? It also begs the question of why we have committed ourselves to a strict regime on state aid with the Japan free trade agreement, which goes further than what we are currently willing to agree to in a future trade agreement with the EU.
The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, put his finger on the point in his last question, but also on the fact that the matter of standards is unfinished business, which we have carried over from the Agriculture Act. I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to all the farm organisations—the NFU, the TFA, the CLA and all the green organisations, which have been united with the public. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, mentioned the 1 million signatures we had that gave rise to amendments in this group, which were previously tabled during the passage of the Agriculture Bill.
My noble friend Lord Caithness was right to stop at one and a half cheers. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, have identified the need to know more about what the membership of the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be going forward Although my noble friend the Minister has put a little more meat on the bones, it is still vague.
I did not understand entirely whether the relevant committee, especially in the Commons, will be entitled to do a public appointment hearing regarding the future chair, or the reappointment of the current chair, of the TAC. My noble friend may have misunderstood the role of human rights issues and employment law in this regard. These are now standard in agreements before the World Trade Organization and international agreements, so I am slightly surprised that he thought I was seeking to undermine the Equality and Human Rights Commission in this country, which of course was not my intention.
On independence, I am not sure that we are 100% where we should be, certainly on resources. It would have been helpful to have further clarification. I have made my point about how appointments should be scrutinised by the relevant committee and I stand by that. I am sorry if I did not hear my noble friend confirm that. Also, when my noble friend says that reports on agreements will be “laid before Parliament”, I presume he means that they will be debated and voted on in the usual way.
It would be more helpful than anything else if my noble friend would withdraw government Amendment 36 at this stage. I do not think that it has been drafted clearly and it does not sum up the debate that we have heard on this group. What compounds this is that, on a closer reading of government Amendment 34 on which my noble friend has relied in summing up his arguments, the review to which he has referred, in subsection (4) of government Amendment 34, allows that, in subsection (6B) of proposed new Section 42 of the Agriculture Act:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations repeal subsections (4A), (4B) and (6A), and amend subsection (5) to remove reference to advice requested in accordance with subsection (4A)”
That of course is the very advice that is the subject of this group of amendments: requesting advice from the Trade and Agriculture Commission on the matters referred to in subsection (2) of the new clause
“except insofar as they relate to human life or health.”
I also did not quite understand what the Minister said in summing up how the Government will report. He said that the TAC will report on so much as regards advice, but not on public health. He did not outline how or when that duty will be exercised in terms of future trade agreements, which body would be doing those, and to whom that advice would be tendered if it is not going to be tendered by the Trade and Agriculture Commission.
I think that the will of the House has been expressed strongly this evening that public health and food security should continue to be included. I do not know whether I have an opportunity to revert to my noble friend to answer those two points before I decide whether to withdraw my Amendment 7.
Amendment 7 disagreed.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 8. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.
8: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Free trade agreements: determination on compliance with international obligations and state actions
(1) Before publishing the objectives and any initial impact assessments of a proposed trade agreement to be implemented under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, the Government must conduct a risk assessment which considers whether the agreement would comply with the United Kingdom’s international treaties and other obligations, with particular reference to human rights, and examines serious violations committed, or alleged to have been committed by the state or states who will be signatory to the proposed trade agreement.(2) The risk assessment under subsection (1) must be presented to the relevant Committees in both Houses of Parliament.(3) Before a trade agreement can be laid before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (“the CRAG procedure”), Ministers of the Crown must determine whether the trade agreement, if ratified, would be compliant with the United Kingdom’s international obligations, with particular reference to human rights, and whether serious violations have been committed by the state or states of the signed trade agreement. Such a determination must be published and made available to the relevant Committees at the same time as they are requested to consider a signed trade agreement.(4) The Government must present an annual report to the relevant Committees in both Houses of Parliament on the continuing compliance of trade agreements with the United Kingdom’s international obligations, with particular reference to human rights, and which examines serious violations committed or alleged to have been committed by the state or states who are signatory to the trade agreement since it was signed. If breaches of the United Kingdom’s international obligations or serious violations have taken place, Ministers of the Crown must make a determination on the continuation of a trade agreement.(5) In this section, “serious violations” include an activity by a state which would violate an individual’s—(a) right to life, including but not limited to genocide;(b) right not to be subjected to torture or cruel inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;(c) right to be free from slavery and not to be held in servitude or required to perform forced or compulsory labour; or(d) other major violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms as set out in relevant international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.(6) In this section, “trade agreement” refers to any agreement between the United Kingdom and one or more partners that includes components that facilitate the trade of goods, services or intellectual property, including but not limited to—(a) free trade agreements as defined by section 4;(b) Interim Association Agreements and Association Agreements; (c) Economic Partnership Agreements;(d) Interim Partnership Agreements;(e) Stabilisation and Association Agreements;(f) Global Agreements;(g) Economic Area Agreements;(h) Cooperation Agreements;(i) Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreements;(j) Association Agreements with strong trade component;(k) Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerships; and(l) Investment Protection Agreements.”
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for signing this amendment. I also particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his support. Despite what we might read in the newspapers, there is no difference between us on these issues and, in particular, in ensuring that those people who commit genocide are held to account. We have a long record of working together on this and I am sure we will continue that co-operative approach tonight.
As we heard in the previous group of amendments, all EU trade deals since 2009 have had human rights clauses embedded in them, allowing the EU to suspend a deal, either partially or fully, if the third country is adjudged responsible for human rights abuses. While this power has not been exercised in any case so far, EU representatives say that it is vital, first as a basis for dialogue and progress on human rights issues during the negotiation phase for any new deal and, secondly, to apply ongoing pressure on third countries around these issues.
In February 2019, the then International Trade Secretary Liam Fox revealed that the watering down of human rights provisions was something many third countries were demanding as the price of agreeing a deal. He suggested then that the UK would not accept these demands, saying:
“Some countries have said that they did not like some of the human rights elements that were incorporated by the EU and they would like us to drop those in order to roll the agreements over.”
Mr Fox went on to say:
“I am not inclined to do so, because the value we attach to human rights is an important part of who we are as a country.”—[Official Report, 13/2/19; cols. 892-93.]
I totally agree with Mr Fox in that regard, and the Minister’s words in Committee expressed similar sentiments, but how are such words being translated into reality? Is there evidence of a consistent approach on human rights? Do we have a joined-up government approach? In 2016, Simon McDonald, head of the Diplomatic Service, told MPs that
“clearly more resource is devoted … to prosperity than to human rights.”
Human rights are one of the things we follow, but not one of our top priorities. When Theresa May visited China in 2018, she was praised by the Chinese state media for sidestepping the issue of human rights, putting the importance of what it called “pragmatic collaboration” with China first. The media concluded:
“May will definitely not make any comment contrary to the goals of her China trip…. For the Prime Minister the losses outweigh the gains if she appeases the UK media at the cost of the visit’s friendly atmosphere.”
The Government’s pragmatism on human rights has been particularly clear when it comes to the promotion of trade. We have seen the red-carpet treatment given to notorious human rights abusers such as Crown Prince bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, justified by his willingness to invest Saudi’s wealth in the UK and increase Saudi imports from the UK.
However, as with the previous group, there are 15 countries with which the Government say they are still in ongoing negotiations about rolling over beyond 31 December the preferential trading arrangements the UK currently has with them as a member of the EU. These include countries with very poor records on human rights, including Cameroon, Egypt, Singapore, Uganda, Turkey and South Sudan. All those countries have been the subject of very detailed debate in this House and condemnation by Ministers in this Chamber. Can the Minister say whether the draft deals under discussion will replicate or improve on the EU clauses on the protection of human rights?
The end of last week saw the announcement that a rollover trade agreement has been signed between the UK and Egypt. This is welcome news for UK firms trading with Egypt, but that cannot be the sole consideration when reaching an agreement with a regime such as President Sisi’s—a regime which has jailed, executed and disappeared hundreds of political opponents and human rights activists, brutally persecuted the country’s LGBT community and seen Egypt become one of the world’s top worst countries for workers’ rights. As President-elect Biden has said, there should be no more blank cheques handed to a dictator such as Sisi.
In negotiating this rollover agreement the Government had an opportunity and a responsibility to replace the toothless platitudes on human rights in the 2001 EU-Egypt agreement, and its total silence on workers’ rights, with meaningful, binding commitments on those issues and serious, enforceable penalties. My honourable friend Emily Thornberry, the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, wrote to Liz Truss this morning, asking her to divulge the terms of this agreement, so that when we debated the issue this evening we would be aware of what the Government had achieved. Sadly, there was no response and there has been no agreement, so we cannot debate it. That is why we desperately need this human rights amendment, which seeks to make that process more transparent and accountable to Parliament.
This amendment proposes a triple barrier against trade agreements with countries that abuse human rights. First, Ministers would be obliged to provide an assessment of the human rights record of any overseas state before starting trade negotiations with them, so that this could be examined by the relevant scrutiny committees. Secondly, before seeking to ratify any subsequent trade deal, Ministers would have to publish a determination of whether the state has committed serious violations of human rights, so that this could be considered by MPs and Peers as part of the CRaG process for the scrutiny of new trade agreements. Thirdly, Ministers would be required to produce an annual report on the ongoing compliance of their new trading partner with international human rights laws and determine whether the UK’s trade agreement should continue if serious violations have occurred. Crucially, the determinations made by Ministers at stages two and three would be subject not only to scrutiny by Parliament but could potentially be challenged in the courts by human rights campaign groups, if there was clear and verifiable evidence that the Government were ignoring serious human rights abuses and violations of international law.
The definition of serious human rights violations in the amendment includes references to genocide, torture, servitude and compulsory labour. These are all charges that have been laid against the Communist Party of China’s Government in their treatment of the country’s Uighur population. The purpose of this amendment is to cover the widest possible spectrum of abuses, mirroring the language used by the Government to determine the liability of foreign nationals to the Magnitsky sanctions under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, and to decide whether weapons can be sold to overseas Governments under the arms export licensing criteria.
We will be discussing a further amendment in the next group, and I want to make it clear that this side of the House will support it too. We do so because we support the principle. There may be issues around the legal process that we need to address, but we will certainly support it. We are working together across the House to ensure that human rights abuses are properly addressed.
This amendment targets a range of serious human rights abuses wider than the ultimate crime of genocide; that is its purpose and I am sure that is why the noble Lord, Lord Alton, signed it. These include indiscriminate massacres of civilians, the use of torture and arbitrary mass detention, serious violence against peaceful protesters, et cetera. It also demands that the Government make a determination of responsibility for human rights abuses, the basis of which can be challenged by Parliament and by the courts.
Finally, I want to repeat the argument that sympathetic words on the need for human rights and that human rights are taken into account, as I have heard used by the Minister, are not enough. They need to be translated into a clear and accountable process—a process that is accountable to this Parliament. For me, the best outcome today would have been if the Government had committed to come up with their own transparent process, thereby alleviating the need to divide the House. I think that, across all sides of the House, we are totally committed to human rights. There is no disagreement among us. What this amendment is clearly seeking to do is ensure that Parliament takes its responsibilities properly and that the processes used by the Government on human rights are properly scrutinised. That is what we want.
I fear that, prior to Report, the Minister has not given us the assurances that we so desperately wanted. Therefore, I must give notice that, potentially, I will seek to test the opinion of the House. However, it is not too late. I know that the Minister is listening. I sincerely hope that he is able to give us the assurances that we so desperately seek.
My Lords, the Government may be concerned to see noble Lords return from that intermission invigorated and fortified for the remainder of the evening that lies ahead. I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on the way in which he introduced his important amendment, to which I am a signatory, and the thoughtful way he expressed the reasons that lie behind it. I will not say it is a pleasure, because the issues we are discussing are hardly that, but I am always glad to be able to stand with the noble Lord, specifically when we deal with atrocity crimes and human rights, and tonight is no exception. I support Amendments 8 and 11 and the consequential new Schedule, which is linked to Amendment 11. I am a signatory to those amendments, proposed by the noble Lords, Lord Collins, and Lord Blencathra, from whom the House will hear in due course.
In his well-judged opening speech, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, explained that the amendments focus on our duty to examine the human rights records of trading partners. Later, as the noble Lord said, the House will debate Amendment 9, an all-party amendment in my name, which is more narrowly drawn, specifically targeting trade agreements with states accused of committing genocide, and putting in place a judicial mechanism to break the vicious circle that leads to inaction as genocides emerge.
Like Amendment 9, Amendment 11 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, also provides a judicial mechanism to enable a wholly independent judge to assess human rights violations wider than genocide. Amendment 8, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, provides the opportunity, through risk assessment, parliamentary scrutiny and an annual report to Parliament, to look at serious violations of human rights, including torture and servitude. I should declare that I am a trustee of a charity, the Arise Foundation, which combats modern-day slavery, and a patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response.
These amendments are not dependent on one another, or mutually exclusive. Taken together, they could provide a combination of oversight and pressure from within and outside Parliament, providing belt and braces. If enacted, they will enable us to redefine our willingness to trade with those responsible for egregious crimes against humanity—an opportunity which I flagged at Second Reading. Subsequently, on 29 September, during day 1 of our Committee proceedings, I moved Amendment 33, an all-party amendment which I described as an attempt to open a debate around three things: first, doing business with regimes which commit serious breaches of human rights; secondly, the overreliance on non-democratic countries in the provision of our national infrastructure; and thirdly, the role that Parliament and the judicial authorities might have in informing those questions. On 13 October, the fifth day of Committee, I moved Amendments 68 and 76A on the narrower point of trading with countries judged by the High Court of England and Wales to be complicit in genocide.
For the sake of completeness, I shall also refer to my Amendment 5, which I moved on 29 June on Report of the telecommunications infrastructure Bill, in which a number of noble Lords present tonight, in the House and online, participated. Despite a range of powerful speeches from all sides during that debate, the movers agreed to the Government’s request not to press the amendment to a vote following an undertaking by the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, that the Government would engage with them and return at Third Reading with an amendment of their own. Several cross-departmental meetings were subsequently held but the Government were unable to table a Third Reading amendment, and indeed that Bill has disappeared into the long grass.
I am deeply disappointed that the Government have not used the Trade Bill to resolve this issue. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said about that missed opportunity for the Government to bring forward an amendment that they themselves had crafted. The House needs to understand that, despite the willingness of noble Lords to engage with Ministers, the principle that serious human rights violations and even the crime of genocide should determine our trading relationships has not been accepted by the Government. Sadly, like Banquo’s ghost, a government amendment is this evening absent from the Room—probably having suffered the same fate as Banquo—which is why these amendments are on the Order Paper.
It should be clearly stated that Amendments 8, 11 and 9 make no mention of any particular country that might fall foul of these provisions. The movers are clear that these are not catch-all amendments but are carefully constructed to assess both the seriousness of such violations and the direction of travel of the country concerned. I could of course provide the House with a Baedeker’s guide to countries where human rights violations occur, but that is not the point of these amendments.
However, in imagining the circumstances in which such amendments might come into play, I will give the House just one hypothetical example of a country whose human rights record should be scrutinised and would be likely to be affected by these amendments. In that context, I refer to my role as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uighurs and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong. However, I add that the example is merely illustrative.
Forty years ago, as a young Member of another place, I had the opportunity in the early 1980s to travel in China. It was in the aftermath of the death of Mao Tse-Tung, whose 27-year reign of terror, which led to the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, took the lives of tens of millions of people. Estimates of the number of people who died under his regime range from 40 million to as many as 80 million, through starvation, persecution, prison labour and mass executions.
Notwithstanding the massacres in Tiananmen Square, China in the late 1980s and early 1990s—I know the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, sometimes alludes to this himself and knows it to be true—appeared to be moving towards economic and political reform, perhaps exemplified most of all in the important “one country, two systems” pledge of the 1984 Sino-British declaration on Hong Kong. However—as we have seen with the dismantling of the Hong Kong model, the brazen arrests of pro-democracy campaigners, distinguished lawyers and opposition Members of the Legislative Council, and the emasculation of the rule of law—one-party, one-system hegemony is the order of the day. On the mainland, plurality and diversity are outlawed, made manifest by the arrest and imprisonment of dissidents, lawyers, artists, writers and religious adherents.
I have reduced what I was going to say today in the interests of time but I shall specifically mention Xinjiang, where an estimated 1 million Muslims are incarcerated in re-education and forced labour camps, subjected to brainwashing and surveillance, turned into slaves, separated from their families, sterilised and aborted and told to disown their culture and their religion—even forced to watch the destruction of their cemeteries, the desecration of their mosques and the obliteration of their identity. Professor Adrian Zenz, a German scholar, has described this as
“the largest detention of an ethnoreligious minority since World War Two”,
while a Newcastle academic describes it as
“a slow, painful, creeping genocide.”
Notwithstanding a great love of Chinese people and respect for Chinese culture, I carefully distinguish between my love of China its people and my enmity to an ideology and a system that would treat its own people in this barbaric way, brutally silencing any dissent. In considering our business and trade relations with the Chinese Communist Party, we can do little better than to consider the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes. He says that the CCP is
“a regime which regards business, as well as the state-owned enterprises, as part of the political project.”
There is an umbilical link between the CCP and the country’s companies—that is not in dispute. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute meticulously details the global expansion of 23 key Chinese technology companies and their links to the state. We know that Uighurs are used as forced labour in factories within the supply chains of at least 82 well-known global brands in the technology, clothing and automotive sectors, including Huawei, Apple, BMW, Gap, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen. According to one report, the UK is strategically dependent on China for our supplies in 229 separate categories of goods, 57 of which service elements of our critical national infrastructure.
The deepening ideological hostility of Xi Jinping—who, as President for life, has returned to a personal dictatorship not seen since the days of Mao—his hostility to democracy, international institutions, the rule of law, and fundamental human rights, show how wrong western Governments were to believe that more and more trade with the CCP was going to insure us against an ideology which despises liberal democracy and the freedoms which we associate with it. I could cite other examples of how these amendments might have application, but do not intend to weary the House with that now.
As we consider future trading partners, we have the chance to link the trade we do with the values for which we stand. The United Kingdom was one of the nations that gave the world the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the convention on the crime of genocide. Later, through the Helsinki accords, the United Kingdom and its allies knew the central importance of upholding of human rights with a patient determination that ultimately saw the collapse of the Berlin Wall. We did not achieve that by selling our souls to dictators.
We believe in a rules-based international order and we espouse liberal democracy, the upholding of diversity, the protection of minorities and the eternal quest for freedom. Those principles enunciated in these amendments would send a signal of hope to beleaguered people in dire circumstances, but I end with what I think it will say to the Chinese Communist Party and other violators of human rights. Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese writer and dissident, and Nobel laureate, who died in 2017, after serving four prison sentences, said:
“There is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom.”
We owe it people such as him, the incarcerated Uighurs, the suffering Tibetans, the Falun Gong and other religious believers persecuted for their faith, to stand four-square with them in that quest. By voting for these amendments, we will demonstrate—to arrested lawyers such as Hong Kong’s Martin Lee; young jailed pro-democracy campaigners such as Andy Li, Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow; to imprisoned newspaper owner Jimmy Lai; and defiant women like the brave Grandma Wong—that we will uphold the human rights of place such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang. We will put our belief in the quest for human freedom before menacing intimidation, brutal suppression of human rights and trade based on slave labour. It is for those reasons that these amendments are so important, and I will have no hesitation in voting for them tonight.
My Lords, I rise to speak in support of Amendment 8 and my own Amendments 10 and 45—that is 10 and 45, not 11 and 45. I have been monitoring proceedings—watching them upstairs in my office—and I have popped down to the Chamber for this debate. I shall attempt to be brief because much has been said, in such wonderful ways and in such a powerful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, whom I regard as my noble friend, and by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury—I think it is the first speech I have ever agreed with him on, although he may not find that helpful.
My Amendment 10 is designed to emulate the excellent Amendment 9 of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, because I seem to recall that, when he moved his amendments in Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, commended the approach of involving the courts, and I thought, “That amendment has got some traction”. As such, my amendment on human rights—not genocide—follows the structure of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. For the human right abuses, I have selected, in the main, the principal ones from the European Convention on Human Rights. I do not intend to push my amendments to a vote because I hope Amendment 8 will succeed, and I will vote for it.
The only little quibble I have with Amendment 8 concerns subsection (5)(d) of the proposed new clause. Subsection (5) talks about “serious violations” and lists “genocide”, “torture”, “inhuman or degrading treatment”, “slavery” and so on—but paragraph (d) then talks about
“other major violations of human rights”
“the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
My worry here is that one is getting down to less important human rights, some of which I regard almost as motherhood and apple pie. My concern is: would the Government use this as an excuse not to go down this route?
Yes, of course, they might accept genocide, slavery and torture, but I question reporting to Parliament every time that one of the more minor human rights is contravened. We may consider this terribly important in our western liberal democracy, but I suspect that, if you look at the huge range of UN human rights, the protocols and the additions to them, almost every single country in the world could be accused of breaching one of them. That is my concern, and it is why, in my Amendment 45, to which Amendment 10 refers, I listed the main ones from the European Convention on Human Rights:
“The right to life
Freedom from torture
Freedom from slavery
The right to liberty
The right to a fair trial …
Freedom of expression
Freedom of assembly
The right to marry and start a family”
and so on—because it is important to concentrate on the main ones.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has set out in detail the incredible abuses of the Uighur people in China. I put it this way: would we dream of doing a trade deal with the regime in Burma, considering what it has done? Would we do a trade deal with the late